Rettir - Sheep Roundup

What is it?

If you’re visiting Iceland in the fall, catching the annual sheep roundup or “réttir, “is one activity in Iceland you do not want to miss. During the month of September famers in Iceland come together in a joint effort to round up sheep from the mountains. The annual event is one that has been handed down as a tradition among the Icelanders for ages.  

The tradition of driving sheep to the mountains in the summer came from the necessity of survival. Many of the fields surrounding the farms were used to produce hay for the livestock for winter feeding, and it was necessary to find a new location for sheep to graze during the summer. It turned out that the mountains would be a perfect location, offering the sheep the opportunity to graze freely on the abundant highland vegetation. 

During the fall in Iceland the farmers head up to the mountains to herd the sheep, usually on horses or four wheelers with a few Icelandic sheep dogs to help out. The sheep are then brought down to the Réttir – the sorting site – where they are first put together in a large corral in the middle but later sorted into smaller pens that belong to the Icelandic farms in the area. This traditional search for Icelandic sheep is great fun and attracts people from the surrounding towns, friends and families, but also complete strangers who just like to join in on the fun and help out.

At the end of sorting the Icelandic sheep, they are herded to their respective farms and sometimes the farmers will throw parties to thank the helpers, serving traditional Icelandic meat soup and other Icelandic delicacies. In some places there’s a dance in the evening where happy, Lopi-wearing sheep sorters will celebrate the day’s success.

How can I participate?

Many tour companies in Iceland offer special guiding trips for the annual sheep roundup. Although many packages include other sites along the way, it is well worth the entire experience. While some trips require you to be an experienced rider, many other tours are suitable for everyone. Enjoying the unique and traditional customs of Iceland such as participating in “réttir“ is a great experience and will leave you with a strong sense of Iceland’s wonderful culture and history.