A day in the life of a sheep musterer

One of our more unusual tasks was the opportunity to spend a day mustering sheep.  

Thorsmörk, like much of Iceland, was once a big grazing area for sheep, and until 1920’s had been grazed bare. It was handed back to the forestry service and is an Icelandic success story with large areas of birch, a few patches of fir trees, all at a modest Icelandic height. The sheep now live largely on the other side of the Throngá river, travelling higher throughout the summer to feast on the vegetation. As the summer draws in the sheep naturally make their way back to the lowlands, but a few need an encouraging shove back towards the isolated shepherds hut in the distance.  

The teams task was to explore the valleys off trail looking for the sheep and herd them out of the park. We made out along the circuit towards the Troll church at a pace, then split into three groups to explore the different canyons looking for our fluffy friends. Very quickly we were off trail, crossing lava covered landscapes and clamouring over ridges.  

Groups of three and four were rounded up together until we were closing in on nine fiesta fiends, 8 white and one black. They skirted the mountains with ease, sure footed on the scree and fast across the land. Once we had negotiated them into a bottle neck the fun began. The sheep approached the water with reluctance, none of them taking the lead across the fast flowing waters they had once crossed to get here. Cal and Alexey attempted a pincer movement but they rushed past us, back up the hills where I met them with a stern look and directed them back down to the river but further upstream. The team then needed to regroup and Alexey clamboured down the bank to meet them, telling them in Russian quite what he thought of their antics. After a frustrating stand off, he managed to convince them back down stream where Cal and I met him to tackle them across once more.  

They looked comic as they crossed, but through changeable weather, icy rain and occasional sun, it felt like mission accomplished. Little did we know that the other part of the splintered team was having a 8 versus one battle with a black sheep. It seemed to toy with them as they lost sight of it in the undergrowth, then gave the occasional bleat to antagonise them. The sheep deservedly took its victory for the day. 
By the end of the day we returned to camp full of stories, understanding the frustrations of Icelandic sheep farmers and ready for a cup of tea. 


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