Icelandic Language Blog

Réttir, the annual sheep roundup. Posted by on Sep 10, 2015 in Icelandic culture, Icelandic customs


Lamb heart by stu_spivack at Flickr

Food is my favourite way of following how the seasons change. Earlier this week as I was grocery shopping I realized the early autumn was here, summer was now entirely over though some sunny days might still be in store for us, and that it was time to go get the warm clothes out and pack summer wear for storage. Fresh lamb hearts gave me the hint.

For the whole summer Icelandic sheep have been grazing in the wild, left to their own devices on mountains and meadows. Some sadly end up as road kill because Icelandic sheep bear an unfortunate combination of agility, speed and stupidity; if you see a sheep by the side of the road slow down. Do not expect that a sheep running away from the road won’t, at the last minute, do a quick 180° turn and leap majestically under your tires, killing themselves in process. Likewise if there’s a ewe on one side and lamb on the other you can bank on the lamb to dart across the road just as you’re almost passing them.

The sheep crashes are soon over though now that they’re all being brought in for the autumn. People already in Iceland, mark the oncoming weekends as a no-drive time, because especially on the countryside some roads will be entirely taken up by sheep and people on horses that are rounding them up and bringing them home. These groups can be surprisingly large as the main idea is that you bring everyone’s sheep in in one go, as many as you happen to find, the sorting happens later on.


Réttir by karawho at Flickr

Sheep sorting, or réttir, is a popular autumn “sport” and foreigners are warmly welcomed to partake! You’ll have to contact a farm first and ask them about it, but usually they’re only happy to have a few pairs of extra hands volunteering for help – food is normally provided for all workers and a party afterwards, but the actual work is no-pay. It’s also heavy work, you’ll get very tired, dirty and sweaty at it, so it’s good to choose your clothes with that in mind.

Here’s some schedules for this years réttir:

The whole country’s réttir according to the area here. (Icelandic)
South-Iceland réttir here. (English)

Réttir starts by bringing all the sheep to a round fence that’s also called a réttir. It has a round space in the middle and sections around it, each belonging to one farmer. The people working in the réttir catch sheep in the middle, check the ears for marks on whose sheep it is and then try to convince the sheep to walk to its own section, which they rarely are willing to do. A typical way is to throw one leg over the sheep’s back, grab it by the horns and try to steer it to a correct direction… well, that’s after you first catch it. 😀


Réttir by karawho at Flickr

Want to see a réttir in action? Here’s a few great videos!

Göngur og réttir í Helgafellssveit 2014 (roundup and sheep-sorting in Helgafellssveit 2014)(link).
Göngur og réttir í Vesturfjöllum (roundup and sheep-sorting in Vesturfjall)(link)
Gaman í réttunum. (fun at the sheep-sorting)(link)
Icelandic sheep roundup. (link)

Some sheep are already brought back, which means that now there’s fresh, cheap meat at grocery stores, especially the kind that you won’t see as much for the rest of the year like the aforementioned hearts. Sheep hearts are tender and have a mild flavour, fast to cook and don’t cost much. They’re also fast and easy to prepare: clean them first by removing extra fat and the big veins on top, cut open and wash thoroughly under cold water.


In fact, as an autumn theme I thought it’d be fun to share Icelandic recipes with you, dear readers! I’ll attach one to the end of each post, and although the first one may not be everyone’s favourite I’m sure there’ll be find something for everyone. The only situation where Icelandic recipes fail is vegan diet (Iceland is badly suited for agriculture, thus traditional diet relied on animal protein) but if it’s at all possible to create a recipe without using animal protein I’ll include those instructions as well. 🙂

Hulda recommendshulda078

Lambahjörtu/ Lamb Hearts

2 msk olía (= 2 tbsp oil)
2 beikonsneiðar (= 2 slices of bacon)
1 laukur (= 1 onion)
3-4 lambahjörtu (= 3-4 lamb hearts)
3 msk hveiti (= 3 tbsp wheat flour)
salt eftir smekk  (salt according to taste)
nýmalaður pipar (= ground pepper)
1 dl tómatsósa (= 1 dl crushed tomatoes or tomato sauce)
1 dl rjómi (= 1 dl cream)

Skerið beikon, lauk og lambahjörtu í sneiðar. Hitið olíu á stórri pönnu og steikið beikon í 2 mín. Bætið þá við lauk og steikið í 2 mín.

(= Cut bacon, onion and lamb heart to pieces. Heat oil in a pan and fry bacon for 2 min. Add onion and fry for 2 min.)

Veltið hjörtum upp úr hveiti, saltið og kryddið með pipar. Bætið hjörtum á pönnuna og steikið í 2 mín. Bætið tómatsósu og rjóma á pönnuna og látið sjóða í 2 mín.

(= Roll the hearts in wheat flour, top with salt and pepper. Add hearts to pan and fry 2 min. Add tomato sauce and cream and let boil for 2 min.)

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About the Author: hulda

Hi, I'm Hulda, originally Finnish but now living in the suburbs of Reykjavík. I'm here to help you in any way I can if you're considering learning Icelandic. Nice to meet you!