The Annual Sheep Roundup: Réttir

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The Annual Sheep Roundup
The Annual Sheep Roundup

Look beyond the Superbowl and Halloween this autumn and try something new! Every year in autumn, Icelandic farmers have a tradition of rounding up all of their sheep, and sometimes wild horses, on hills, in valleys, and across rivers. It’s a fun, physical adventure that will give you a great memory and show you what it really means to be a true Icelander.

Did you know that there are three times as many sheep in Iceland than people? This tradition occurs every year in autumn, and is done in order to bring all of them into safety and warmth for the bitter winter months. During the spring and summer, the sheep roam freely across the Icelandic landscape, scouring mountains and munching on wild plants in valleys. But because there are so many sheep, farmers can’t do it alone! They’d love your help.

That’s right. What country in the world relies on the kind and high-spirited help from tourists to keep livestock safe and sorted but Iceland?! Nowhere! Icelandic farmers rely on their community, and help from tourists and travellers is always greatly appreciate by the locals. It’s a great way to get face to face with the locals in a real, down to earth way.

Keep in mind that Réttir, the gathering up of all of the sheep, requires a lot of walking and running around. It’s also quite chilly by then, so dress warmly (but not too warm!). It’s a big benefit to be in good physical shape before attending Réttir, but if you’re not but you believe that you’re up for the task, of course your help is welcome. There are many tourist agencies in Iceland that connect visitors with farmers and communities with the kind extra help.

Don’t worry, in Iceland, we don’t ever work too hard without celebrating equally as much. After the sheep are herded, counted, and safe, you can attend Rettaball. Rettaball is a big autumn feast located somewhere in most every community’s centre that is topped off with a fair share of drinking, dancing, and singing. Horray!

If you’re planning a visit to Iceland in the months of September or October, consider getting your hands dirty and helping a farmer with the rounding up of his or her sheep and other livestock that roams freely. It’s not an experience that you want to miss, as there’s really no other time to win the heart and appreciation of a rugged Icelandic farmer!

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