Jens Østergaard
Box 152
3920 Qaqortoq
Greenland
e – mail: forsupv@greennet.gl

 

The history of -

The breed of Greenland – The Greenlandic sheep!  

Believe it or not – but we do have sheep farming in Greenland, and the first sheep did obviously come to Greenland together with  Erik the Red back in the years 980 – 1000. Erik came from Iceland, and the sheep as well I presume – but nobody really knows!

What do we know?

According to sheep farmer and priest Jens Chemnitz he imported 9 ewes and 2 rams from the Faroe Islands in October 1906. In 1908 he imported 8 extra ewes also from the Faroe Islands.

Beside these imports, Jens Chemnitz also received 5 ewes and a ram of “the Scottish breed” – but these sheep did not do well during the winter and were slaughtered before 1915, when Jens Chemnitz handed over all his 70 sheep to Lindemann Walsøe. Walsøe is the person who in 1917 stared the sheep research station in Qaqortoq – the station that now is still going strong as  “Upernaviarsuk – Agricultural School & Research Station” where I am seated right now.

But Lindemann Walsøe had spent almost a year in Iceland studying sheep management and the slaughtering of lamb and sheep. He became so interested in the Icelandic sheep breed, that he imported 175 sheep from Iceland in 1915.

Beside this major import in 1915, Lindemann Walsøe as well imported some few rams from Iceland in 1921 and 1934. The last import – up to now - was done in 1957 when the successor of Lindemann Walsøe – Abel Kristiansen – imported a few rams of “Norwegian sheep breed". 

The present Greenlandic sheep breed is a mix of all these imported breeds, but I believe that Lindemann Walsøe only used rams of the Icelandic breed – and the present sheep look very much as that breed.  

Contemporary sheep farming in Greenland today.  

Approximately 20,000 ewes and 55 farms (75 farmer families) are the main part of the agriculture in Greenland today. (There is also one farm handling with reindeer – remember that Greenland is the home country of Santa Claus). All the farms are placed in the Southwest of Greenland.

The mating period is from the beginning of December and lambing then in May and early June. 2 – 7 days after lambing, the ewe and her lambs are sent up to mountain grazing until the beginning of October. The fertility: 1 – 1,2 lambs per ewelamb, and 1.75 – 1.90 lambs per adult ewe.

The lambs are sent directly to slaughter from the mountain grazing. The carcass weight is on average 17 kg for these 4 - 5 month old lams, and the farmer are paid 45 – 47 Danish crooner per kg.

The ewes and rams are housed from late October and we feed them as follows:

Silage made from different types of grasses and green harvested rye – all balled in round bales and wrapped in plastic. 

Grass pellets – imported from Denmark or Iceland.

Whole barley grain – imported from Denmark.

Fishmeal – imported from Iceland.

Pellets of rapeseeds (70 % of the oil have been extracted) – imported from Denmark.

Dried sugar beet pulp (6 mm pellets) – imported from Denmark.

Salt / mineral blocs  - imported from Denmark.

The sheep lose 5 – 10 kg of live weight during the housing period, a necessity to reduce the feed expenses. 

We shear the sheep in late March / early April – and unfortunately we use most of the wool for top layer at stones in our closed trenches. The surplus is burned!! The transport cost has up to now stopped all industrial use of the Greenlandic wool. But the club of sheep farmers' wives have started a small – but very nice - production of yarn, pullovers, felt shoes, felt hats etc. for sale to tourists.

Upernaviarsuk.

Upernaviarsuk is one of the 55 sheep farms in Greenland. We do have 320 sheep, 10 – 14 ha. of arable land for silage production (5000 - 8000 kg 50% dry matter silage per ha. per year) and approximately 40 square kilometres of mountain area for the summer grazing.

Beside being a sheep farm we also do some research in grass growing, sheep feeding, tree growing, potato growing etc., and we do have 2 – 5 agricultural students at the Agricultural school.  

If you demand more information, you are welcome to contact me.

Jens Østergaard  

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