What to Know About Iceland's Annual Sheep Round-Up Tradition

Sheep | © Salvor / Flickr
Photo of Camille Buckley
22 November 2018

While driving along the windswept countryside roads outside of Reykjavik, one might run into the frequent meandering of sheep on the roads. With a large population of sheep that can be found in Iceland, it comes as no surprise that the island has a rooted, annual tradition that involves – you guessed it – sheep!

Round-up | © Ethan Kan / Flickr

After roaming the countryside during the warm summer months, the wooly sheep – approximately 800,000 of them, more than twice the human population – are brought inside for winter. The round-up takes place over a few days and is led by farmers who invite tourists to take part in the old tradition. Some 150 farms participate in the round-up and you can join farmers by volunteering or taking part in trips organized by Riding Iceland.

Sheep herders | © Hafsteinn Robertson / Flickr

This tour is only available for experienced horse riders as the herding takes place in steep mountain ranges for which you will be riding the famously nimble Icelandic horse. Traditionally, the event is followed by a celebration consisting of singing and eating with the surrounding neighbors before the sorting of sheep ownership begins. After the round-up, preparations take place to honor the sheep according to Icelandic culture.

Sheep on a meadow | © Jennifer Boyer / Flickr

Nearly every part of the animal is used in some manner, either as wool garments or as blood pudding. Wool is especially popular and important among locals as it enables them to sustain the cold Icelandic weather. Sheep have long been a crucial aspect of Icelandic culture owing to their value as an incredible source of meat and wool – both important for life on the island.

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