Iceland Réttir

Domestic livestock in Iceland have an interesting life… during the harsh winters they spend their time safely sheltered in barns, but during the summer they are mainly left to wander around the countryside, fending for themselves.

As a result, you will find them everywhere… especially the sheep. Climb a volcano, there will be a sheep. Try crossing a single track bridge… you’ll find your way blocked by sheep. So, the obvious question is, how do farmers catch them at the end of the summer?

The answer is the Réttir – the gathering of the animals in late September. Every farmer goes out to scour their land and rounds up every sheep they can find, regardless of who it may belong to. They are then brought together on a given day in a huge pen, and the farmers and their families go in to find their own sheep and wrangle them into a separate pen dedicated for their own livestock.

sheep-gathering-6

We happened upon such a gathering by accident on the road to the Snæfellsnes peninsula, north of Reykjavik. There must have been a few dozen folk there, and hundreds of sheep. It was certainly a fun event, verging on the crazy at times, as the kids got involved to corral the sheep and the sheep tried to make a break for freedom wherever they could. Even the toddlers got involved, as their parents picked them up and plonked them on top of a protesting sheep, to learn how to identify it and walk it to where it needed to be. As you’ll see from the chap in blue in headline image, the standard technique is to straddle the sheep, grab its horns and lead it along. Of course, this sometimes doesn’t work (see below;-)

Sheep gathering 7.jpg

You will see the same approach used to gather the Icelandic horses around the same time –   so, if you are out in the Iceland countryside around September, take a look to see when the Réttir will be happening. It is a great event to see, even if you are not looking to photograph it!

The headline image for this post was taken using a Canon 5Dmk3 and 16-35mm lens, at 1/500th at F4. No special processing applied.

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