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Forystufé – the Leader-Sheep of Iceland

Updated: Jul 26, 2021

Have you heard about the amazing Icelandic sheep called Forystufé or leader-sheep?

We visited an interesting exhibit, Fræðasetur um forystufé, in Iceland. The exhibit is housed at the farm, Svalbarð, about a 20 minute drive west of Þórshöfn, a village in the northeast. The manager, Daníel Hansen, is a teacher and he gives an excellent tour. The stories and information that he shares about these special sheep are very interesting.

At this exhibit, Daníel tells Cathy and I about the physical and intellectual characteristics of the forystufé.

Daníel Hansen and Cathy Josepheson

The informational brochure says:

"The leadership-sheep breed and Icelandic sheep-herding have been joined by unbreakable bonds since the beginning of settlement in Iceland. With its resiliency, intelligence, and exceptional leadership qualities, the leadership-sheep has repeatedly proven it's worth and value, especially regarding sheep grazing in earlier times.

It is believed with certainty that no sheep breed possessing the behavioral pattern of the leadership-sheep can be found outside of Iceland. This quality is therefore very rare. The number of leadership-sheep in the world is around 1,400. Each sheep is originally from the northern county called Þingeyjarsýsla in Iceland.

The produce of the leadership-sheep (forystukindin) breed is therefore unique and cannot be found in other places in the world.

  • Forystukindin has a very good sense of direction

  • Forystukindin leads a herd of sheep and controls it

  • Forystukindin will sense danger and lead the herd away from it

  • Forystukindin has a particularly soft and warm fleece"

Daníel's stories about their wool, personal characteristics, horns, and examples of them saving other sheep were so interesting.

These special sheep were brought to Iceland at the time of settlement along with the other sheep. They have long legs and are extremely lean having little to no fat. Usually they are multicolored and have horns. Some of them have four horns. They have little to no economic value except as leaders. Some farmers shake their heads and become frustrated with some of these sheep.

They are known best for their leadership characteristics. Many old stories tell how people and sheep have been lost in the Icelandic Highlands and Icelandic storms but were rescued and brought to safety by these special sheep. They remain calm, walk in front of the flock, and are alert to any impending danger. They will even bring the sheep down early if they sense danger.

A special gene pool keeps these sheep with outstanding leadership abilities. These sheep are only bred to each other to keep the genetic tendencies strong. They are highly intelligent. Their sense of direction and ability to forecast impending bad weather are uncanny. The leadership-sheep are used when the farmers move the sheep from the home pastures up to the summer grazing area and then back home again before winter. Leader-sheep are more primitive than the modern Icelandic sheep. No comparable sheep are found elsewhere in the world.

As an interesting aside --- Daníel held a competition to name the special blend of kaffi (coffee) sold at the museum. One of my cousins won the competition! She submitted the name, 'Ærblanda,' which translates to 'Sheep Blend.' We had kaffi and kleinur at the Forystufé Kaffihús. It was a wonderful visit. Check out Forystufé on your next visit to northeast Iceland.

Author of The Tricking of Freya, Christina Sunley, made a great comment reminding us of the book, The Good Shepherd. See her comment below.

See the Facebook page or Website for more information. This link is very interesting on their website: 'Behavioural Studies on Icelandic Leader-Sheep.'

Forystufé at Svalbarð the Leadership Sheep Exhibit

Email us your questions or join the conversation on our Facebook Group.

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