Miniature Icelandic Sheep?
by Stefania Sveinbjarnardottir Dignum
Reprinted with permission of the author
Miniature Icelandic sheep? What creates "miniature Icelandic sheep?" I wonder if it is a sheep that is the result of chain breeding ewe lambs? Or is it a runt from a line of runts that should never have been bred? Maybe it is a small lamb that will, if given TLC, turn into a full size Icelandic sheep. Possibly it is the result of a rogue Shetland ram that happened to be in the right place at the wrong time? "Miniature" also made me think of when I was fighting Ovine Progressive Pneumonia (OPP), since one of the consequences of OPP are small lambs that do not grow big.

My understanding of a "miniature breed" is that it breeds true. To create a breed that will breed true, a lot of careful selection of foundation animals has to be done. Then these foundation animals will have to reach consistency in breeding true. After that the breed will have to breed true for 20 years before being generally accepted as a ";breed." The regular size Icelandic sheep have not even been on this continent for 20 years,
(at the time of this writing) so any Icelandic "miniatures" certainly have not had the time to prove themselves. However, to the best of my knowledge there are no laws that forbid anyone to call the animals they breed whatever they want. I also do wonder about legal liability if somebody buys a "miniature" but gets a full size offspring and decides to sue for misleading advertising? Whatever it is, it concerns me to think that there are small Icelandic ewes out there that will one day try to deliver a full size ram lamb. That would be an experience that neither shepherd (nor vet) nor the ewe will enjoy. The ewe might not even survive that kind of experience.

Grant you, most of us have sold small lambs, but I think that if they are sold for breeding we would have full expectations of that lamb reaching the potential of a full size Icelandic sheep. I have sold small lambs, but only wethers for pets or ewe lambs only to people that I trust will give that lamb a good time to grow before breeding her, and then only ewe lambs that have sound genetic background. And of course I would guarantee that lamb to be a good specimen.

I do wonder why people would buy a miniature Icelandic sheep when there are good Shetlands that in size are normally in the range of what miniature Icelandics are supposed to be.

I don't really believe it will do any harm to the breed that someone has decided to try to make money on poor specimens by calling them a fancy name. People that are serious about breeding sheep for useful purpose will not go for a "miniature" of a breed. I find it likely that these "miniatures" will just die out. The breed will prove itself as a meat, wool, or milk producing animal and when it has done that firmly, the oddities within the breed will fade.

Before we got the imported semen over here, I was a bit worried about the sheep getting smaller and poorer due to limitation of new genetics and rapid expansion of the breed. Fortunately we do now have access to the breed's top genetics through frozen semen. That will help enormously in counteracting the effects of rapid expansion. When the expansion slows down a bit, I believe we will be seeing the Icelandic breed at its best, with all the characteristics that are popular both in Iceland and North America. And even though there might be the occasional "miniature" floating around, not many will notice.