Our special Icelandic Sheep at Sunny Cove Farm have a lifetime contract with us. We are a small, hobby fiber-farm operation, a true labor of love. Sunny Cove is located 18.4 miles north from our primary residence. We grow our own hay on the nine acres of tillable farmland, but purchase grain and straw from the local feed mill, storing a stockpile of each to last throughout the winter. Because we are a primitive operation, with no well or electricity, each day we bring in water to the flock.
We chose to raise Icelandic sheep, a breed renown for being triple purpose: meat, milk and fiber because they are tough, and in the wild, self-sufficient. While we rely on them only for their fiber, other shepherds tap all of the resources of this hardy and versatile breed. Now in our fourteenth year of raising sheep, we no longer breed our ewes. A third of our flock have passed on, but each of them, continue to be in our hearts and minds because they had all taught us so very much.
Many of our friends have asked in the sheep are dumb, a common sentiment portrayed in television commercials. Not all sheep are the same. Many breeds are bred for the commercial meat market and have been highly domesticated, thereby easily handled. Icelandic sheep are a primitive mountain sheep breed, originally brought to Iceland by the Norwegian Vikings and revered in Iceland as a National treasure. They have retained their primitive roots, as displayed in their intellect and acute vigilance. Each sheep has their own personality and attributes. Being a shepherd is a distinct honor, one we cherish as we care for these animals with their distinguished, ancient bloodlines. You can learn more about the Icelandic breed by visiting: ISBONA.com.
Our Journey: In the spring of 2007, Tom spied an ad in the free local newspaper, advertising ten acres of farmland on the South Range hills near Superior, Wisconsin — approximately 18 miles north of our home in Solon Springs, Wisconsin. This intrigued us. After setting up an appointment, we visited the acreage, and fell in love with the land and its views. High on the hilltop, we could look over the fields to see Lake Superior in all her seasonal moods. As an investment, the land appeared to be a great purchase.
Tom retired from is profession as a full professor at UW-Eau Claire to resume a new profession as a full-time author. Debbi would be retiring in several years, but we discussed what would be her new passions. Farming on our acreage seemed a great possibility. We explored a variety of animals, cattle, bison, horses, llamas, alpaca, sheep and goats. After exploration online and reading books sourced from our local library, we determined sheep would be best for our particular setting.
A week at a time, using Debbi’s allocated time off from her duties as a College Dean of Students, we took summer vacations to visited different shepherds raising various breeds of sheep in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan. What a wonderful way to see these states. We soon determined the Icelandic breed: a hardy, canny, primitive triple-purpose type of sheep would be the sheep we would raise.
This would be our hobby farm, not a permanent residence. Determined not to invest in the expenses of drilling through hundreds of feet solid rock to put in a water well, or to erect electrical lines into at the farm, we knew our primitive operation would require us to depend upon physical labor or get work done. While we could grow our own hay, any other food and water would need to be brought in daily. We can drive into our hill road leading to our sheep paddocks and sheds during late spring, summer and early fall. Late fall, winter and early spring challenges us to hike or ski to the flock hauling the hundred-plus-pounds of water provisions in a garden cart, or pulling in ice fishing sleds to make assure our flock need for fresh water
Our first two sheep arrived on December 6, 2009, eight-month old Icelandic ewes. We named the one white ewe, Johanna, in memory of Debbi’s great-aunt who taught her to knit at age four. The other moorit, or brown ewe, Grete, we named after a foreign exchange student from Norway who lived with Tom’s family when he was a youth. We had to take the sheep that December, or they would have been sold to market.
Receiving these sheep in early winter did not allow us time to have the paddocks built at our acreage. Staying close to home, Johanna and Grete first lived in a large dog kennel, in our front yard. The new paddock enclosure would be built on our farm property in the early spring. They lovingly bonded with their new humans.
In the Spring of 2010, with our Sunny Cove Farm paddock complete, Johanna and Grete moved to their new hilltop home, overlooking Lake Superior. Moving to the spacious hill paddock provided them a large predator-safe enclosure with several grazing areas. While they appeared content, we wanted them to mate. We purchased a black ram with silver tips, naming him Hallbjorn. Hallbjorn means “Rock Bear” in Icelandic, appropriately named because he now lived on Rockmont Road and looked like a black woolly bear. That same fall, they met a new ewe named Pearla who possessed luminous, luxuriant white fleece, Hallbjorn brought his good graces to the farm and brought new life to Sunny Cove Farm the next spring when Johanna gave birth to twin Rams, Thorhallur and Ari,then Grete added her sons Tryggvi and Torgeir. Pearla, our white beauty, died with her twins from an acute illness in April of 2011.
Over the next several years, we built our flock. Grete with Thorhallur, gave birth to Gefjon and Bjorn in 2012, and Haakon and Honna in 2013. Little Honna and Torgeir gave us Ingaborg in 2014. As lambs were born, other sheep passed on. According to Icelandic lore, when they depart Sunny Cove Farm, they return to their homeland to graze in the wild hills of Iceland. We like to believe it is so.
We no longer see new lamb life at Sunny Cove Farm, but enjoy all the days with our remaining flock.
Our daily labors of love allow us to work with the animals, exercise our bodies, enjoy the great outdoors and celebrate life as we watch our gorgeous changing seasons, and our always-compelling, bewitching neighbor Lake Superior
Meet the Entire Flock
Ari is the longest living in our flock. He has never been sick. Ari is our leader sheep, taking over the duty after his brother passing. He is the first to ask for new hay and grain. He provides guidance to the flock as a strong leader. Perhaps that is why he is aloof, but he loves to come over to get his chin rubbed and be treated with an animal cracker. A true Icelandic Leader Sheep.
Bjorn is our poet. He looks out over the fields viewing Lake Superior, we believe, and has large poetic thoughts. His fleece is lovely to see and touch. We often see him butting away the rest of the flock to take over the grain feeder. This extra grain gives him the girth he enjoys.
Gefjon is the most canny, alert and skittish of our flock. She can be fickle. Some days she wants nothing to do with us, while other days she follows us around, seeking our full attention to get scratched and petted. Gefjon possesses the deepest moorit brown color and softest fleece. She loves to race around the paddock, letting off steam.
Grete is one of our originals. A tough little mother, she only wanted to raise one of her two off-springs each year, giving us several opportunities to bottle feed lambs. Grete served as our senior female leader over several generations of sheep. She too preferred to be aloof and had an air of aristocracy about her, keeping her head in the air and eyes averted. We lost her in June 2015
Haakon was rejected by his mother, Grete, and lived his first two and a half weeks with us at home. He was diapered and loved to play with the dogs. He greets us each morning and thinks he should come home with us when we leave. He says ‘maa’ instead of ‘baa’–and is our tamest puppy sheep.
Hallbjorn was the ram who brought new life to Sunny Cove Farm. He was a black and silver beauty who held his head high with such majesty. He was a powerful and strong, yet loving ram who craved attention from his people. He passed on too quickly, unable to avoid sun on an unusually hot day in July in 2011, when the heat index hit 110 degrees. Our folk band is named for him.
Ingaborg is the youngest member of our flock. While she looks like a white sheep, look at the little back spot on her front left leg and you will see she is spotted. Her sweet, shy, personality and timid ways become aggressive when her treats of animal crackers and hay are in sight.
Johanna is one of our two original ewes. She was the biggest female in our flock. A lovely white supertanker. She proved herself as an extremely good, rugged mother, and bred gentleness into each of her offspring. She taught her new shepherds many lessons. She was the first to leave our flock in December 2011.
Honna gave birth to little Ingaborg at a very young age. In spite of her youth, Honna was an excellent mother. Mother and daughter always were within sight of one another throughout her lifetime. Her lovely white fleece shone so brightly in the sun and was so very soft. Honna always liked treats and pets. She found she had during the night in March 2019.
Pearla was with us for too short a time. Possessing luminous, luxuriant white fleece and a shy personality, she stayed on the outskirts of activity, carefully watching. She was a lovely girl who we wish would have been with us much longer. She died with her twin in April 2011.
Thorhallur loved to get attention and was our gentle giant. The largest of our flock, he was the first born at Sunny Cove Farm. He was a true leader sheep who attended to the rest of the flock, often stepping aside so the little ones could get their food first. His gentle strength was a joy to observe. We lost him in February 2018.
Torgeir looks so much like his father Hallbjorn and shares the same quiet serenity. He loves the tender grasses of spring and hides in the shadows of the trees. If sheep played hide and seek, he would win. Torgeir loves his hay, and often wears his chow. He had an under-bite called a parrot-mouth, giving him a cute under-bite smile.
Tryggvi is our survivor and Mr. Personaliy. He was paralyzed for four days after being hit by a ewe. He worked hard to come back and celebrates life by jumping happily when hay is put in the feeder. This little man loves to be hugged and given food treats by his people. We call his joyous jigs “Tryggvi Hops.” He is so glad to be alive! He was with us until October 2019.
Now in December of 2022, we honor all of our sheep who have departed from their lives at Sunny Cove Farm and cherish those sheep who remain in our care including: Ari, Bjorn, Gefjon, Haakon, Ingaborg and Torgeir.