Réttir – The Annual Sheep Round-Up

Every September brings Réttir, the Annual Sheep Round-up. This is one of the oldest Icelandic traditions and one of the most important dates in the Icelandic calendar. Réttir takes place every year, starting 1st September until roughly the first week of October. In recent years, it also became a unique activity that some travelers come to witness and participate in. In this blog post, we will cover everything you need to know about Réttir.

After some wild adventures, every September all sheep come back home

Modern Traditions

Since there are no predators on the island, Icelandic sheep roam free. Around May, farmers let their sheep loose to go, explore, and taste the Icelandic wilderness. We’ve got around 800 000 sheep roaming around every summer, and you will likely see them everywhere. I mean EVERYWHERE. The remotest corners of Highlands, the highest cliffs, and the lowest valleys. I can’t even tell how many times I saw a sheep and went, “Oh my, how did it get there?! Are they stuck?” So, naturally, when the time comes to bring them all back to farms before winter – it is a big operation that requires a lot of manpower.

Rétt – Icelandic sheep sorting station

Entire communities come together and go on ATVs, horses, or simply on foot with trusted sheepdogs to fetch sheep. The schedule for Réttir in all different parts of the country is always public and published in newspapers (2021 Sheep roundup calendar). Since the old days, rounded up sheep are sorted at réttirs, circular pens with divided sections to separate each farmer’s herds from one another (hence, the name). This is usually where the party takes place, and the whole community comes together to sing, dance, eat and, of course, help to sort out sheep. Spectators are also welcomed to witness this small celebration known as Réttaball. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 guidelines, this year, Réttir is organized differently.

Can tourists participate in Réttir?

During normal times, a fair amount of travelers take part in the annual sheep round-up. In each community, there are leaders who coordinate the round-up. We call them “mountain-kings” or “mountain-queens”. Rounding up sheep can be a challenging task and may take several days. If you want to participate in Réttir on your own, you should contact local farmers and follow their instructions. However, many tour operators organize memorable Réttir experiences.

If spending a couple of days roaming mountains, herding sheep is not your thing, make sure not to get in the middle of it. For example, this weekend, farmers will be rounding up sheep in the Landmannalaugar area, hikers are asked not to disturb them and stay away from specific trails. The task is challenging as it is, so avoid getting in the middle of it and causing any more inconvenience.

All sheep have distinct markings to help farmers sort out which sheep belongs to which farmer.

In conclusion, participating in Réttir activities is definitely a very unique and authentic Icelandic experience if you are visiting Iceland in September. However, make sure you understand what you are signing up for – it is hard work first, and celebration comes at the end. You are always welcome to be a spectator in the final stage of sorting sheep in Réttirs and Réttaball celebrations.