With sheep returning from the highlands in September, it’s time for the sheep farmer’s “harvest”. Lambs are nice, but now they are bound for slaughter, and the proceeds will pay the bills. However, last autumn, Icelandic sheep farmers experienced a nasty surprise. On short notice, the country’s slaughterhouses announced they would reduce their payments for baby lamb by 9.5 percent and those for yearling mutton by 33.6 percent. Older mother sheep would even bring 40 percent less. Many sheep farmers said to themselves, ‘Give me a break!’
Hulda Brynjólfsdóttir is one of them. The 49-year-old teacher and mother of three operates a sheep farm in Ásahreppur, just beyond Selfoss, together with her husband. They feed 280 sheep during the winter, and emphazise breeding healthy sheep with good meat quality.
For the wool, on the other hand, the farmer still receives only pocket money, and that’s what Hulda thought of when looking for extra income. She has been spinning wool from her own herd in all shades of natural color. Last year, she also added a feldfé (pelt) ram to her barn. Feldfé (pelt sheep) is a long-haired breed, rather rare in Iceland, and Hulda intends to found her own feldfé herd. So why not market the wool herself?
Fond of yarn spinning: Hulda Brynjólfsdóttir. Photo: Magnús Hlynur Hreiðarsson.
Wool has a future
Processing wool with her spinning wheel would not be sufficiently productive, but then a much better idea arose: to create a small wool mill and process Icelandic wool in a professional manner. Pure wool turns out to be in more in demand than ever before. Icelandic wool is unique in its composition: under the sheep’s curly long hair (‘tog’), of which some curls can be up to 30 cm (12 in) long, there is a thick layer of incredibly soft under wool, called ‘þel.’ Both components can be separated from each other and spun separately, thus producing completely different kinds of yarn of the highest quality.
Hulda spotted suitable machines from a Canadian company that produces equipment for small mills. That’s when the ball started rolling. She has already been in touch with Icelandic health authorities to obtain the necessary permits. For the time being, she would like to process only her own wool, and use wool from the local district.
“This means that the customer can trace the wool purchased from us back to a certain sheep from my barn,” explains Hulda. “We’re not planning to dye, but will offer wool in the natural colors of the sheep,” she continues. “They might turn out differently each year,” which makes the choices even more exciting. Since smaller quantities are processed gently, the wool enthusiast can also expect the wool to be softer than any other Icelandic wool. Hulda’s wool will be a high-quality product, priced a little higher than other wool, but not widely available.
If things go well, the small mill will provide jobs for two or three people. Hulda already has prospective customers for the wool product, which is suitable for yarn spinning as well as for felting, but also yarn in any thickness will be available. In order to fund the purchase of the machines and the necessary conversions on her farm, she has launched a crowdfunding initiative on the website Indiegogo.com. You can follow the project's progress on her Facebook page, Icelandyarn.
If all goes according to plan, Iceland’s first mini wool mill could kick off in October, the time when sheep return from the highlands and the first autumn fleeces will be delivered.
Hulda’s campaign can be found here.