Sheepish...

Every year in late september I spend a week at the coast looking for migrating birds. These autumn trips to the coast is unified experience of the birds and the place in itself, and there's always some nice photo opportunities around. So, in addition to the standard birdwatching props I always bring my camera backpack.


This time I wanted to photograph a special kind of subject matter: the Old Norse Sheep. Unlike the "traditional" white sheep (I'll come to why I hyphened traditional), Old Norses are out in the landscape all year - even in the harshest winter weather. They are hardy animals and can cope with the Norwegian winter as long as they can find some shelter and a supply of hey or silage when there's too much snow or ice on the ground. In contrast, white sheep need to stay in a sheep shed during winter and early spring, when the lambing occurs.

With the Old Norse staying out all year, and with that gets less human contact than the common white sheep, they become more shy of people. They rarely let strangers come nearer than 50 meters before they flee, which is why they've also been named "wild sheep". Unlike white sheep they thrive in barren and rugged terrain, and runs quite fast if they need to.


Old Norse is, as the name suggests, an old race. It was introduced in Scandinavia some 4-5000 years ago, along with farming. The race has not been bred extensively throughout time. Todays animals are decendants from an old but small remaining population, grazing on some islands on the western coast of Norway for hundreds of years. It's assumed that todays livestock are very similar to the sheep that the Vikings held. Taking this into consideration you may say that the Old Norse is the real traditional sheep in Norway. They have now become much more numerous, and you'll find Old Norse herds on many islands along the coast, even well above the Arctic circle.


The race has a very pleasing look; smaller, longer legged and more slender and nimble than white shep. As you can see from the illustrations here, colouring and markings are quite different between individuals (the race standard encourage variance), which gives some really characteristic looking animals in a herd. The old rams also carries impressive horns, which ads to their visual impact.

When the week was over I'd found few herds and made some images. As usual the result is a little unsatisfying the first times you try out a new subject matter. But these are fun animals to work with, and I feel I've got valuable experience on how to approach them now. I've decided to put some effort into photographing some Old Norse herd this winter and spring. In the right locations and given good weather conditions I hope I'll be able to make a nice series of images of these appealing and intriguing livestock animals.

You'll find more about the Old Norse race here and here (PDF).