The Old Norwegian sheep breed (gammelnorsk spælsau) has survived since the 1000s, and is the most primitive sheep breed in Norway. It is a descendant of one of the oldest sheep breeds in the world, recorded in Europe as far back as 1000BC.
In Norway the sheep have many other names such as villsau (wild sheep), just spælsau and Norsk korthalesauen (the Norwegian Landrace – short tail). Up until the 1800s it was the most common breed in Norway. By the 1960s they were almost extinct and efforts were made to rescue the breed. Today there are around 10,000 Viking sheep in Norway and we are happy to join other farmers in preserving this heritage breed.
Viking sheep are perfectly suited to their Norwegian environment. They are small and agile for the Norwegian terrain and have fabulous thick coats for outside Winter conditions. They shed their wool, eat almost anything that takes their fancy – juniper, herbs, scrubs, bark and rowen tree branches – have a great herding instinct and rarely get caught by predators. They protect their young and weak by encouraging predators to go after the stronger faster members of the flock so the others can have time to run and hide. Viking sheep have certainly earnt their place in the Arctic.
Farfar was one of the first farmers to bring Viking sheep to Finnmark. Through farmer trading there is now a pretty good stock up here in the North. It just so happens that the farmer we bought our Viking sheep from actually got his first stock from Farfar.
The farmer had his sheep to be sold penned in his barn. Rams and ewes were separated, most were firstlings (sheep under a year old). Just outside some slaughtering had taken place and I felt a little dutiful to save some sheep and give them a good life. I think we will be a different breed to the regular farmer. We don’t see our flock as items to sell and trade but as contributing members of our sustainable farm.
We wanted five ewes and one ram – all firstlings except for one two year old ewe to teach and lead the others. This little flock will give us a good start to breeding.
There wasn’t much science in the choosing. Moose asked which colours I wanted so I chose a pretty flock. Viking sheep come in many varieties of colour – black, grey, blue, brown, white and all in between. They can also have patches, especially around one eye and about 10% of ewes have horns.
So I had chosen the sheep but I had no clue how to get them onto the truck – with a leash? Nope. Moose jumped in the pen grabbed the ram by the horns and straddled him.
He waddled him over to the gate…
…out the door…
…and squeezed him into the trailer.
It was fun to watch and I realized that there was no need to be scared of the sheep (even the ones with horns).
We got them home and let them into a great little enclosure with a small pine forest, small ravine and a pastured hill – lots of places for them to explore, hide and nibble. They were very skittish when we let them loose and ran for the forest.
Gaining their trust was going to be a test in patience. We want our sheep to be confident with us. The firstlings had been up in the mountains all Summer and weren’t used to ‘urban’ life. Once a day when the sheep were in range I let them see me throw bread over the fence. Bread is a usual treat for sheep. As sheep like to eat grains, bread is a fun and yummy way to lure them into friendship. When they saw me they would think ‘food!’ By the end of the week I could stand at the fence and just ‘baaaaaa’. They would ‘baaaa’ back to me from within the forest and came running. I haven’t got them eating out of my hand yet, but soon.
After the sheep got settled it was time to put Rammstein (our ram, named after the German techno-metal band) into his own pasture. Soon he would become fertile and we don’t want to have Winter lambs.
Catching him and moving him wasn’t as painful as I thought. We cornered him into a small gate and then Moose and I each took a horn and dragged him into his new pen. I used to be scared of horns but now I find them very handy. Being so close and tactile with Rammstein made me feel a lot more comfortable around him. In fact, we even love to just sit in the paddock with him. He certainly enjoys the company.
Rammstein loves bread too and I’m at the point were he can take pieces from my hand. He gets a little feisty sometimes, challenging me with stomping front legs but I now think his antics are rather cute. I never thought sheep could be so fun.