One of the first things we learned in Iceland was that there were sheep everywhere. We would also later learn that many of these sheep are not “wild” they actually belong to farmers but are given time to hang out in the Highlands during the warmer months than in the fall they are retrieved sorted back to their farms. Let me tell you the story of how we participated in Icelandic Sheep Sorting while on our Ring Road Trip in Iceland.

You can read all about our Iceland Ring Road Adventure here.

Icelandic sheep
Sheep on the side of the road

On the second day of our trip on the way out of Reykjavik the first thing we saw was sheep, right on the side of the road. Being the tourists we are we pulled over to look at them. And being the weirdos we are we rolled the window down to baaaahh at them. To our surprise, the sheep came closer to the car. Great, we made him mad and now he was going to ram the rental. He didn’t, he just stared at us until we decided best not to hang around and went on our way. 

sheep on Glymur, Iceland
Icelandic Sheep hanging out on Glymur

After that, we started seeing the sheep all over, next as we hiked Glymur. Then the day after that we stopped for a picture of yet another waterfall and when we got back to the car we realized we were stuck. As far as the eye could see thousands of sheep were running past us. We watched and laughed, we saw a few men on horses eventually so we figured out there was a reason for this sheep run. 

Icelandic sorting of the sheep begins

You can read all about our hike to Glymur here.

Sheep Summer Vacation in the Highlands

What we would learn later was that the Airbnb we chose was a farm and that some of the people that were herding the sheep were from that very farm. We were fortunate enough to be able to chat with them and they informed us all about what was happening that day. 

Hvammur 2 Farm, Iceland
Our AirBNB, Hvammur 2

The sheep were coming down from the highlands. In the spring of each year, all of the farmers in Iceland release their sheep up to the highlands to graze and be free. They roam about, eat and mate. Of course, this is after one last sheering for that famous Icelandic wool. All summer long the sheep just get to hang out and be sheep. Talk about free-range! Then each fall all the farmers ride up to the highlands and herd them back down. We were told they are too dumb to come back on their own and that they would freeze to death in the winter if they didn’t go get them. Once back down, they put them in these big pens.  

The beginning of the sheep sorting

The farm we stayed at allows for foreigners to come along on these trips and see how it’s done. Man, I wish we knew about that before because I would have done it! (Interested? Check it out here). Our ever so gracious host was nice enough to extend the invitation the next to witness what happens next. 

Planning your own trip to Iceland? Check out our full Travel Guide to the Ring Road.

Side note: The Icelanders reject that “sheep” is the plural form of the word, and they call them “sheeps” It is adorable and so as not to stand out, we quickly followed suit. You may still hear us call them “sheeps” from time to time.

sheep waiting to be sorted

The Icelandic Sorting of the Sheeps.

The next morning we rearranged our schedule to accommodate seeing the sheep sorting. We arrive to find so many sheeps in a large pen. There is a large cement structure that from an aerial view would resemble a wheel with spokes. A large circular area in the middle and long corridors shooting off with a gate and some sort of number code. We saw some kids sitting on one of the walls and followed suit. A few people moved a large portion of sheep from the big pen to the center of the spoke. Once the sheep were packed in a man stood in the middle and was explaining the happenings. Unfortunately, it was in Icelandic. 

local kids in the mix sorting sheep

A nice man noticed our confused faces and offered up some information. They release some sheep into the center and then the sorting begins. The sheep have tags on their ears that correspond to the numbers above the spokes. These numbers correspond to the farms. Someone from each of the farms is there by their gate in the spoke. Everyone lends a hand in catching a sheep and putting in its respective pen/spoke. We watched for around and then were encouraged to give this Icelandic sheep sorting thing a try. At first, we felt like we would be intruding but everyone seemed inviting enough that we decided “when in Roam!” Well… Iceland.

waiting to sort the sheep
Icelanders from the various farms waiting to sort

Our Sorting Attempt

David managed to catch the one first, the sheep was not interested in going with the flow, David was trying to convince him otherwise but was instead just dragging him through the mud so he opted to just pick him up by the underarms and carried him over. He got some looks from the locals but the job was completed. I was not having as much luck, those suckers are fast, and I am not very big. Finally, I got ahold of one and next, I knew I have straddled it and was holding him by the horns. I was basically riding a sheep. lol. After some convincing, I got him over to his farm gate. This is not easy! We left it up to the more experienced after that and just watched for a little longer. 

David catch a sheep

More About the Sheeps

We learned so much about the Icelandic sheep apart from the sorting of them while we ventured about the Ring Road. Sheep are very important to Iceland. They provide wool to keep them warm and are the most popular meat consumed in the country. For those who prefer to eat meat that is humanly sourced, it doesn’t get much more humane than this. They spend half the year living like wild animals grazing on grass and the rest of the time at their large farms. The Icelanders respect these animals for all they give to them. If you are interested in trying it, it isn’t hard to find. In fact, the hot dogs are gas stations are all made from the sheep and I am told they are quite good. (I don’t eat sheep.)

icelandic sheep
Sheep in a cave

The sheep in Iceland are unique to Iceland. Since Iceland is an island and they are very strict with what animals and things can come into the island the animals and plants here remain pretty much unchanged and they have adapted to the environment. The sheep here, you may notice in the pictures, clearly don’t look like your run-of-the-mill sheep. The reason is that they have over time adapted to grow hair in addition to their wool. This hair grows long over the wool and protects them from the cold.

On to the Next Adventure

Leaving on the next part of our journey we reflected on how lucky we were to be at the right place and the right time to be able to part take in this annual Icelandic activity of sorting sheep. I do hope we get to do a whole sheep sorting adventure one day but so happy to have gotten to experience what we did. 

Have you been? Did you have any sheep run-ins? Tell us all about it below!

Show 28 Comments


  1. What a unique adventure! I’m glad you got to try the sorting process so you can say you’ve ridden a sheep!

  2. Casandra

    This would be so much fun to watch. I’m not sure I would want to get in the pen with them but it would be really cool to watch it all happen. Great post, so different from what I normally read about Iceland!

  3. kmf

    What a cool experience! Definitely pinning this for future reference as I would love to stay where you stayed to learn more first-hand. And love that they call them sheeps.

    • It was a lucky break to be staying the night we did, we hope to go back and do the 4 night excursion with them some day and really see it from start to finish.

  4. Your Air BnB was a farm?! My kids would go bananas! Definitely pinning this post for future travel–thank you!

    • Yes! Actually several of our Airbnb’s in Iceland were farms once we got out of town. And we have stayed at some other farms in other countries too. We love it!

  5. What an adventure! I would be ALL IN on this one. Great photos as wel.

  6. Pam

    So cool! I would never have guessed how they did this and how fun to get to participate!

  7. Cathy

    First, your photos are gorgeous! Second, you told the sheep sorting story so well, I can actually imagine trying to do this and the hilarity that would ensue. Love your post!

  8. How cool! Some of our favorite travel memories have been stumbling upon “wild” animals. Iceland has also always been an intriguing destination since its become so popular recently.

  9. What a fun experience. Totally getting in with the locals on this adventure. I think the closest I’ve come to this is watching sheep get sheared in the spring.

  10. Lisa Manderino

    What a cool adventure! That is pretty cool to experience the sheep sorting and learning all about the highlands.

  11. What a cool adventure you had! It looks like a lot of work, but you’ll have the memories of it all. The sheep are beautiful, too!

  12. I like how the locals respect their sheeps. Interesting they eat them.i don’t think I’ve ever eaten sheep but I do appreciate the wool they provide

    • Ya I don’t eat sheep myself. But I appreciated that the farms cared for the animals properly and gave them good quality lives. I feel like that’s how it should be.

  13. Tricia Snow

    I love this… not the run of the mill vacation at all.

  14. Lucky you got to experience this, not many people (especially travellers) can say that they’ve participated in sheep sorting. Truly a one in a lifetime experience

  15. What a fun thing to do! I can see my family having a blast trying their hand at sheep sorting. Fun!

  16. Tara

    This is SO cool! We were in Iceland two summers ago and saw sheep everywhere – we loved it! I didn’t realize that there was an actual sheep sorting even!

  17. I never put Sheep and Iceland together. Horses. Blue Lagoon. 24hrs of daylight. But not sheep! Learn something new everyday

  18. I love it! I would love to visit someday soon. It looks so peaceful. I love how they can just roam around with no worries.

  19. One of our favorite shows is “Amazing Race” and every time they to Iceland, I’m like “I need to go there!” Doesn’t help that sheep are my favorite animals!

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