ICELANDIC sheep breeders in Cumbria will be able to take part in the first-ever sale of this rare breed sheep.

As a result of growing demand and increasing popularity, Harrison & Hetherington has announced that they will be holding its first timed online auction for the sale of Pedigree Icelandic Sheep, a breed of primitive sheep, which has been attracting a great deal of attention recently.

H&H is hosting the sale on behalf of the Icelandic Sheep Breeders of the British Isles (ISBOBI)starting from September 2 until Saturday, September 4.

Icelandic Sheep, whose number are in the region of 300 in the UK, are medium sized and fine-boned, their naturally short tail, (avoiding docking and stunted growth rates), and their ability to thrive off grass are great selling points.

The breed still has its double coat of tog and thel, producing fantastic fleeces which come in a variety of colours, the wool is very much sought after for its natural properties and can go for considerable value.

Grant Anderson, Auctioneer at Harrison and Hetherington says: “In the past our Icelandic Sheep sales have been held as part of our wider Rare Breeds sales, and in holding an online sale, the aim is to open the breed up to a broader UK wide audience.

“This is a breed which is certainly seeing an increased demand and for those interested in purchasing stock, members of the ISBOBI have reported lambs born in April, averaging around 4kg,have achieved weights in July ranging from 28kg to 37kg off grass.”

Icelandic Sheep have been isolated genetically from other breeds of sheep for over a thousand years and are one of the oldest and purest domesticated breeds of sheep in the world today.

In recent years, many breeders have successfully crossed Icelandic sheep with the Blackface and Shetlands with much success; others have had particularly good results crossing with the larger continentals.

Icelandic rams have come into their own, producing cross breeds which are considered by members of the breed society to be lighter on the ground than some heavy breeds and producing better quality meat than some smaller breeds.

Ruth Stanton, Assistant Secretary of (ISBOBI) said: “We are very excited indeed about the upcoming auction. In recent years there has been so much interest in Icelandic Sheep, it has completely spiralled. The aim of this auction is to help provide us with a measure as to what is happening as well as a benchmark for the breed.”

The first Icelandic Sheep were imported into the UK in 1979, and in 1988 the Icelandic Sheep Breeders of the British Isles was founded, with the aim of preserving the purity of the breed in the UK and coordinating information about the sheep to breeders and those who are interested in buying them. Within the breed there are in the region of 35 types, not all of which are represented in this country.

In Iceland they have been the source of meat and wool and historically milk too, the famous Skyr was made with sheep milk before milk production was increased using cow’s milk. However, as sheep milk is more easily digested and calcium more accessible there is renewed interest in this as a product.

The fleeces are used for a wide variety of purposes, they are in great demand by felters and by hand spinners for knitting, crochet and weaving. The Icelandic fleece is made up of two layers. There is a long, silky layer – the tog – made up of fibres up to 20 cm long, which helps make the fleece water-resistant. The very fine, soft shorter layer – the thel – with fibres approximately 8 cm long, helps make the fleece extremely warm and light.

The ewes lamb easily, have very good mothering instincts and have an excellent milk supply to raise their lambs. They usually have twins, sometimes triplets. There is a distinct gene for multiple births, the thoka gene, and Icelandic sheep having this gene may have five, six or even eight lambs.