Friday, September 17, 2010

Knitting Iceland Part 3: Sheep Sorting in Auðkúla

Ragga and Hélène had a super awesome surprise for us on our journey from Hveravellir to Blönduós: a stop in the rolling countryside of Auðkúla for sheep sorting, or réttir day! There are no large predatory animals in Iceland, so every spring Icelandic sheep are let loose in order to graze all over the countryside. In the fall, the sheep must be brought in so they can spend the harsh winters in the shelter of their respective farm. As you might imagine, the sheep get very mixed up out in the wild so it is quite a task sorting them all out - here's how it happens.

First, all of the sheep are rounded up and brought into to Auðkúlurétt by people on foot, on horseback, and on ATVs - this is called göngur. Once all the sheep have been gathered, everyone in the surrounding areas arrives to help the farmers for réttir.

The sheep are separated out into more manageable batches of about 100 and herded into a central corral where everyone is waiting to sort them. Coming off of this corral are about 20 long pens - each one is marked with a code above its gate that designates a farm. This central corral is where all the magic happens.

this photo courtesy of Debi Stolier

Everyone grabs a sheep by the horns. Once you have a sheep you will want to throw your leg over it and straddle it for better control as they are wily! Next you try to get a look at the tag on your sheep's ear which will have a code printed on it - this designates which farm the sheep belongs to and will correspond with the code above one of the pens attached to the main corral. You find the correct pen and steer or drag or carry your sheep (depending on how cooperative it is) to the right pen and put it in the pen through the gate. Yay! You've just sorted one sheep. Now grab another one and do it again and again and again. Once all the sheep in the corral have been sorted, its time to go back into the main field and separate out another 100 sheep to sort and the whole process starts again.

Everyone can help out on sheep sorting day. It is hard work and takes hours to get all the sheep in the right place. All of us were able to lend a hand sorting the sheep and the Icelanders were surprised to see tourists not afraid to get their hands dirty wrangling sheep. Of course, we could hardly wait to get our hands on those woolly, fluffy cuties! From top left moving clockwise, here are some of the sheep wranglers: Ragga, Debi, April, Amber, cute Icelandic boys, Mary Ann, cute Icelandic girl, and Ysolda. Nice work everyone!

clockwise from top left photos 2, 6 & 8 courtesy of Debi Stolier

Some of the sheep were born after they were turned out to pasture in the spring and therefore do not have tags. These lambs are collected into a pen in the middle of the corral for sorting later. They are not opposed to cuddling.

Once all the sheep from the main pen have been sorted, its not over - there are thousands more sheep in other pens waiting for their turn. The new batch of sheep are herded into the main pen. It was awesome to watch so many thousands of sheep running and jumping into the main pen. Those sheep can really jump high!

Well, it looks like there are a few thousand more sheep to sort, but we must head to Blönduós. Good luck Auðkúlurétt!

Check back on Monday for our visit to the Textile Museum in the lovely seaside town of Blönduós...


westknits said...

I love reading about your Icelandic adventures! Your blog is amazing. I've been going through all your past posts and scheming when I could visit your shop and spend all my money on fiber and fabric. Love the fancy pack and your shop's aesthetic. All your beautiful fabrics make me want to start sewing!

Fancy Tiger Crafts said...

Aw thanks, Stephen! We'd love for you to come visit one day. Of course, we could help offset your spending by hosting a workshop while you're here...