Meet Heida Ásgeirsdottír — a farmer of Icelandic lamb for 20 years

Iceland’s unspoilt terrain provides pristine pastures for farming. Model-turned-farmer Heida Ásgeirsdottír has been producing local lamb here for over 20 years.

By Icelandic Lamb
Published 7 Aug 2020, 14:58 BST
Icelandic sheep are high-tempered, independent animals, and they’re used to living in tough conditions.

Icelandic sheep are high-tempered, independent animals, and they’re used to living in tough conditions.

Photograph by Valgardur Gislason

What makes Icelandic lamb so special?
There’s no cross-breeding. We only have the old Icelandic sheep and it’s a very tough, pure and special breed. The sheep are free-roaming and free of diseases and antibiotics. Icelandic sheep are high-tempered, independent animals; they’re so strong-willed. They’re easy to anger when you’re shearing them so you have to be ready to hold them tighter than other breeds. They spend half the year inside, feeding on hay, but they became so tough because they used to go out in the winter to try to grass feed. They have a lot of muscle so they’re really meaty and the flavour is good because of the grassland they feed on, and because the lambs are so well cared for.

How did you go from modelling to farming?
My modelling career was very short and something I tried out of curiosity, but farming was always my plan. I wanted to work with my hands and my brain, whereas modelling was only about the way I look. Being a farmer is rewarding because it makes you capable of handling most situations. It’s hard, but it’s also great to be so reliant on yourself. No one can tell you what to do; you have to figure it out and do what’s best for you and your animals. 

Heida Ásgeirsdottír used to be a model, but cut her career short to become a sheep farmer. 

Photograph by Valgardur Gislason

Tell us about the ritual of lambing season.
Lambing season takes place for the month of May, with a two-week peak in the middle. We work for 17 hours each day, taking shifts to sleep, with two or three of us looking after more than 400 mothers and 600 lambs. It’s mostly about making sure each animal is OK, that all the sheep have hay and water and that the newborn lambs have milk. Most of the time, the mothers give birth by themselves — it can take between 10 minutes and several hours — but sometimes we have to help. We take the lamb as soon as it’s born and make sure it gets milk straight away. It’s important the lamb gets this immediately because it helps them fight disease. If the mother doesn’t have enough milk, we have to bottle feed them.

What have you learned about sustainability?
In my opinion we’re not doing enough to protect nature and we tend to be too greedy. Ideally we should be trying to minimise waste, to use less and use it better. We need a reminder, we’re just one of many species on this Earth; we’re part of nature, we don’t own it. 

Why is it important to promote Icelandic lamb?
Icelandic Lamb’s purpose is to promote the purity and quality of our product and to make it more appealing in the eyes of consumers. If we sell more, the price will go up, which is good for farmers, because if the price is low for too long then more and more farmers will give up. Ours is a positive message and a sustainable model, and in this modern world that’s really important.

More information

Icelandic Lamb is a cooperative of producers, farmers and abattoirs protecting and promoting Icelandic lamb. 


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