One of the staff at the german embassy organised a day to go and join a sheep roundup. I'd wanted to poke my head into one of these, they looked like a lot of fun, but didn't really feel like just turning up as an outsider with a camera somewhere. This sounded perfect. We headed down to Fljótshlíð, in a convoy of cars with diplomatic plates. Germans and English, best of buddies. The german and british embassies here share an office, which always gets a laugh.
We arrived in time to hang out on the street, and watch the sheep all nervously standing around, knowing that something was up. They'd all been herded down into a large holiding pen over the last few days, and we could watch sheep running back and forth through a creek, looking for somewhere more peaceful. They weren't having much luck :) I'd never seen a sheep cross a creek before, it's quite neat. They shake themselves off like a dog afterwards, and then shiver a couple of times. Because icelandic sheep already look giant cotton wool balls, watching themselves shake water off is quite a sight!
Soon enough, after the rest of the local farmers had arrived, it was time to herd them across the road, and into the Réttir, for sorting. Progressively smaller pens :) We were then given an ear tag number to watch out for, and the fun began! Originally we'd been sort of told to just stay out of the way, but it readily became apparent that no-one really cared, and this was quite a big family day. It certainly wasn't hard work for the farmers. Most of them sat back and chatted, while the teenage children did all the sorting.
Sorting, of course, includes more than just sorting. Teenagers light enough would ride the bigge sheep around, and little kids just liked to pat them. Flasks were a reasonably common sight, all being shared around. The fun, but horribly inefficient part was that no-one actually looked for anyone elses sheep. So you would grab a sheep, check it's tag, and then simply let it go if it wasn't yours. We ended up seeing quite a lot of sheep that we simply weren't interested in :)
It was a beautiful day, and after a little while of watching and trying not to get in anyone's way, I simply had to climb in and wrestle sheep. All the kids in our group were already out and about, and the farmer we were visiting seemed perfectly content to let our big group round up all of his sheep for him. Fine for us too! One thing I'd never realllly noticed before was just how different each sheep was. I know there's different types, but even amongst the same type, they even all had different faces. We started to recognise a few of the wilier sheep that snuck around again, avoiding the side of the pen with their rightful owners.
It wasn't just the appearance either. It was also the demeanor. Some of the sheep would buck and jerk if you so much as touched their fleece. Others would be quite content to let us just pat them. We had a group of three sheep, all from the same farm, standing up against one another and the wall, contentedly letting us pat them, when they had heaps of room to go and run around in. Later on, a teenage girl came over upon hearing we had a veritable herd of her tag number, and looked quite surprised to see us with the group, all peacefully standing there being patted.
Eventually, it was down to the sheep that didn't have horns, which were much harder to get a hold of, and also, as sheep got put into individual pens, the remaining sheep had more room to maneuvour, so towards the end, the leftover sheep were pushed into an unused side pen. Not all the sheep were claimed though. Some were from a different valley, and some had no tags at all! I was quite curious how they sorted out _those_ sheep.
After that, the farmer invited us all back to the farm, for "coffee". Coffee of course meant coffee, cakes, kleinur, waffles, cream, biscuits, more coffee, and more cake. A very pleasant way to wrap up the day.
Fun for a day, a lot of fun, but still, one of the most social fun parts of the sheep year, not enough to make me pack it all in and become a sheep farmer :)