Raises and trains Icelandic sheep dogs, Icelandic sheep and Icelandic horses Cards, spins and knits
Valsdóttir and her husband own T.K. Ranch. Originally established in 1956 by T.K. Biggs, the 8300-acre (15 Sections of land) ranch supports three generations of the Biggs family. They continue to follow and develop an ethic of land and animal management that, as their mission statement says, “exits to perpetuate a healthy family and rural lifestyle based on a spiritually nurturing relationship with the land, the animals and the people”. The ranch lands – the hay and pasture lands – have been certified organic since 1998. All animals are raised without antibiotics, artificial growth hormones, animal by-products or chemical parasiticides. In addition, the ranch manages animal stress for better quality and more tender carcasses, and hold clinics for interested producers. In 2005, the ranch introduced its certified organic line of beef products where no MSG, gluten or milk solids are used so that the product is as natural as possible. Not surprisingly, T.K. Ranch has received or been nominated for various awards including the Alberta Emerald Award and CPAWS.
Valsd6ttir brings to the T.K. Ranch much of her Icelandic heritage. In Iceland, most farms, including that of her father, raise Icelandic sheep, a separate breed that is one of the world’s oldest and purest breeds of sheep. Throughout its 1100 years of history, the Icelandic breed has been truly triple-purpose, treasured for its meat, fiber and milk. Icelandics are a mid-sized breed with ewes that is generally short legged and stocky. The fleece is dual-coated and comes in white as well as a range of browns, grays and blacks.
In Iceland, all young girls learn to knit and knitting circles remain popular there among women of all ages. So, it was natural for Valsd6ttir to begin raising Icelandic sheep here in Alberta for their fleece so that she could continue this tradition. She began with three Iceland ewes and now has a flock of 40 animals; she now raises the sheep for their meat as well as for their fleece. Valsd6ttir uses a hand drum carder to card the washed, spins the wool using one of Doug Rognavaldson’s* Icelandic spinning wheels and then knits sweaters, toques etc. for family and friends.
Helping her manage her flock are six Icelandic sheep dogs (and now four puppies), again a separate breed. The Icelandic sheepdog is 14 to 18 inches in height and weighs around 25 to 30 pounds. The tail is lightly curled over back. The Icelandic sheepdog came to Iceland with Vikings settlers in the 9th century. There are references to the dogs in many of the Icelandic sagas, dating from 900 to 1300, and further references in 15th and 16th centuries. As early as 1898, a standard for the breed was recognized in Denmark, and in 1905 the breed was recognized in England. In 1970, Icelanders formed an association to protect and_ sponsor the breed, and in 1972 international recognition was achieved. The Icelandic sheepdog is a good herder and works a flock differently that other sheepdogs. After the sheep are gathered, the dogs push or drive them to bring them to the farmer. As in earlier times, most farmers in Iceland do not train their dogs to any great extent and Valsd6ttir follows this tradition. She had trained her dogs to follow hand signals.
“Just for fun”, Valsdóttir keeps a couple of Icelandic mares. The Icelandic horse can be traced back to the settlement of Iceland in the 9th century. Due to the isolation of Iceland, this stock remained pure and virtually disease-free. To keep it that way no import of horses or other livestock is allowed into Iceland. All imports of used riding wear, tack and other things used around livestock are also forbidden, unless fully disinfected. This has implications because once horses have been exported they can never return. Valsd6ttir, then, had to purchase her mares from an Alberta breeder. Her mares were trained by the breeder and exhibit the distinctive five gaits. One of the gaits, the tölt, is an amazingly smooth traveling gait and is often performed with the riders carrying full mugs of beer to demonstrate the smoothness of the ride.