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HAPPY SHEEP

You’re hardly ever alone in the fields of Norway

Sheep grazing in Aurlandsfjorden .
Photo: Øyvind Heen / fjords.com
Sheeps grazing in front of The Aurlandsfjord .
Photo: Øyvind Heen / fjords.com

In Norway, the sheep roam around freely to graze in the mountains. They eat and move however they like, and that shows on their strong wool and flavourful meat, and most importantly, it's a happy life!

The waterfall looks like a fluttering white summer curtain as it pours down the steep mountainside. Below, the sky is reflected in the deep blue fjord. It’s a perfect day to go hiking in the mountains.

After the long and steep ascent, like a true Norwegian, you grope in your backpack for a packed lunch and thermos full of coffee. Finally, you sit down in peace – just enjoying the view of the picturesque fjord landscape.

Suddenly a loud noise makes you quiver:

“BAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA”

Wild sheeps at the island Smøla in Nordmøre
Smøla sheep Nordmøre.
Photo: Fredrik Ahlsen, Maverix / Visit Norway

The land of sheep

Whether you go hiking in the Norwegian mountains or go for a drive on the country roads, chances are good that you'll encounter one of the free-range Norwegian sheep. Approximately two million sheep are grazing in the outlying fields of Norway every summer. That’s unique, and something that you won’t experience elsewhere.

In the mountains, bells and bleating might break the silence. And you should be prepared to step on the brakes when you see a danger sign with sheep on it along the road. Normally, sheep are not in a rush, like the rest of the traffic.

Rain, sun or cold winds – they endure the weather as their thick wool regulates temperature, ensuring that they don't get too warm or too cold. The same goes for you, if you are wearing garment made of Norwegian wool. Wool is Norwegians go-to fabric to stay warm when temperatures drop.

Farming in the hills

The hilly landscape between the deep fjords and the tall mountains particularly in Fjord Norway makes farming challenging. Luckily, the sheep thrives in this type of terrain.

“In Norway, the resource situation is different than in the rest of Scandinavia and other comparable countries. Only three percent of Norway’s land mass is arable land, but 45 percent is usable or excellent grazing land”, says Tone Våg, sheep farmer and leader of the Norwegian Sheep and Goat Association.

Våg continues: “Norwegian agriculture is dependent on the extra resource of the outlying fields, and pasture is an important source of income for Norwegian farms”.

The right to roam

As long as you conduct yourself considerately and carefully, the public right of access gives you the right to move about in Norway’s outlying areas all year round. The term ‘outlying areas’ refers to land that is not being used for agricultural purposes.

You can pick flowers and forage for plants, berries, mushrooms and roots of wild herbs to take home or even pick nuts if you eat them on site. There are special rules controlling the picking of cloudberries in Nordland, Troms and Finnmark counties.

This right does not encompass hunting or fishing in freshwater bodies, but everyone is allowed to fish in freshwater where fishing permits are issued. You can fish for free in saltwater throughout the year for private consumption.

You can pitch a tent anywhere you like, as long as you maintain a minimum distance of 150 metres from the nearest occupied residence or cabin. You must ask for the landowner’s permission if you intend to stay the night at the same location for more than two days. This does not apply to the high mountains or locations far away from inhabited areas.

More information about the right to roam.

Happy sheep.
Photo: Fredrik Ahlsen, Maverix / Red Junasun / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

No fences

Sheep grazing freely in nature can choose to eat whatever they want, which makes the Norwegian sheep ;happy.

“When you’re taking the sheep to their summer grazing land in the mountains you can hear the happy sounds from the herd. You can tell from how they’re acting that they remember from year to year”, Våg says.

Grazing without fences allows the sheep to act more in tune with their instincts, and they naturally divide into smaller groups with individuals closely related to one another.

If you occasionally encounter sheep far into the wild, you normally don’t need to worry: “Sheep recognises where they are, and they know where they are going” Våg says.

The green caretakers

Due to the pastures in the mountains, there is built more than 100,000 mountain farms around in Norway. And although the sheeps are very independent, farmers still go to check in on their woolen friends to make sure they are safe and sound.

“It’s statutory to check on flock at least once a week during the whole summer. Therefore, it’s not only the tourists who can enjoy the sight of sheep grazing in nature. I feel privileged that I can take my family with me into the mountains to look after the animals as a part of my regular work”, Våg says.

Another factor is that grazing sheep is a natural way to prevent the landscape from overgrowing and maintain the biodiversity in Norwegian nature. According to Våg, almost 300 endangered species are dependent on the Norwegian cultural landscape.

“It’s not overgrown nature the tourists come to see”, says the farmer.

Sheep herding

In the fall you can often see herds of sheep flowing down the mountainsides. Check the Norwegian Trekking Association’s website to find out when and where you can join the farmers to bring the herd back from the mountains.

“It’s always a great pleasure to get your animals back when the summer is over, and to see that the lambs have had a good time and gained weight. I’m proud of making a product by using a renewable resource like the outlying fields”, Våg says.

“When you’re a sheep farmer it improves your quality of life to see animals grow and thrive in the outdoors”, she adds.

Våg has no doubts that the sheep are happy to see the farmer and the barn again in the autumn as well.

“It depends on the size of the flock, but you do get a special connection to some of them”, she says.

Sheep you might meet

The Norwegian white sheep, which incidentally can be black or brown, is the most common sheep breed in Norway. Here are the five Norwegian sheep breeds you most likely encounter while travelling in Norway. (Sau means sheep in Norwegian).

- Norwegian white sheep
- Spælsau
- Fuglestadbrogete sau
- Blæset sau
- Old Norwegian sheep

Summer Mountain Farms

For centuries, the summer pastures in the mountains were a vital part of Norwegian agriculture.

Girl with a goat .
Photo: Leikny Havik Skjærseth / Visitnorway.com
Girl with a goat .
Photo: Leikny Havik Skjærseth / Visitnorway.com

Quality food

Along the coast, the grass is naturally salted from the sea. In a way, Norwegian sheep is spiced by nature – as they eat herbs, grass and plants. Feeding on the renewable outlying fields, make sheep meat one of the more sustainable meat products in Norway.

In the area of Lofoten and Lyngen in Northern Norway, you can taste Lofotlam and Lyngenlam that has PGI status, meaning it's geographically protected. These farms have even stricter demands of quality than the Norwegian authorities.

Much of Norwegian traditional food consists of lamb meat. From the Viking age, we have brought forward the tradition of fenalår, dried leg of lamb. This can be served year-round but particularly in Christmas. On Christmas Eve, many Norwegians eat pinnekjøtt, lamb ribs as a festive dish.

In autumn, fårikål, or lamb stew is a must! Fårikål is Norway's national dish – and we even have a day dedicated to it, the last Thursday in September. Fårikål is simple but delicious, with fresh mutton and cabbage. In Fjord Norway you might eat ... hold your horses, a sheep's head – yes, you heard it right! It's called Smalahove and is a more sustainable way to use the whole animal and not let it go to waste.

Are you getting hungry?

Go on a culinary journey through Norway with Vy express! Stay on some of Norway's most beautiful farms or take in one of the country’s most distinctive accommodations.

Farm activities

Have fun in the countryside! Cuddle cute animals and play in the hay on a Norwegian farm.

Fannremsgården farm in Trøndelag .
Photo: Leikny Havik Skjærseth / Visitnorway.com
Fannremsgården farm in Trøndelag .
Photo: Leikny Havik Skjærseth / Visitnorway.com

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