One of the best (unplanned) activities we did on our honeymoon was to spend the morning at a local Icelandic goat farm a short drive from our hotel, Hotel Húsafell. The high season, when they are open to visitors, ended a few days before we arrived, but the receptionist at the hotel advised us that if we called ahead they were more likely than not to be open and let us visit.
We found them on Facebook and sent them a message, asking if we could pop over in the morning. They replied straight away, agreeing to a time, and at 10am the next day we pulled into the icy farmyard and had cuddles with two beautiful collies who came out to greet us. There was NOTHING around, and very feathery free-range chickens were roaming about, so naturally Kez was in heaven. After sitting down to a coffee with the owner, Jóhanna, she took us into the barn to meet the goats.
Until recently, Icelandic goats were a species at risk of disappearing entirely. The early settlers faced harsh conditions in a land where plant growth is sparse and temperatures are frequently below freezing. They quickly found that sheep, with their fatter meat and ability to provide wool, were a better option to keep as livestock than the leaner, furrier goat, and as such the demand for them lessened and lessened.
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Jóhanna and the farm have been intrinsic to the popularity and numbers of the native species rising rapidly since the early 2000s. She started with something like 40 goats and now has upwards of 200, although with such a small genetic pool to start with she recognised that there had been some issues in the past with accidental inbreeding.
The first goats we met were born later in the season, so were still proper babies, and they were just the most ADORABLE things we had ever seen. We both have a soft spot for goats in particular, so to hold a baby goat and have it snuggle into your neck was close to perfection for us.
The next pen held the slightly older kids from earlier in the year, who were also very cuddly. In between ramming each other (those who didn’t have horns were obviously disadvantaged here), they were trying to undo our shoelaces, climb into our laps, and nibble our fingers. It was like being around twenty new puppies. Size-wise, they were probably on a par with Pygmy goats, and their faces were not dissimilar either. Jóhanna told us that she had used crowdfunding to raise money for the farm, as a way to ensure the breed did not die out entirely, and she had been overwhelmed by the amount of people from all over the world who had readily donated to save the Icelandic goat.
As cute and wonderful as the farm was, the owner didn’t pull any punches with us – this was a working farm, and the next pen held the unlucky goats who wouldn’t live to see another summer. Although it was sad, Kez has worked on a farm before and we both understood from the start that this wasn’t a sanctuary; these goats needed to earn their keep. Some did that with their meat, some did that with their milk… and some did that by starring in Game of Thrones (as you do). Belonging to the minority who do not watch GoT, this meant nothing to us, but we met the famous goats nonetheless and they too were very cute.
The last goats we met were the rams, who were absolutely massive. We aren’t joking, they were the biggest goats we had ever seen. They were a little intimidating and we didn’t cuddle them, but we did cuddle a tiny farm kitten which had been sleeping in one of the hay mangers, and we met the resident rescue bunnies who were living the dream with a whole stable of hay to themselves.
Afterwards, we had a tasting session in the farm shop of goat sausage (first time tasting for both of us, and a little strange after petting so many live goats minutes before), goats cheese, and oils flavoured with herbs and flowers grown in Jóhanna’s farmhouse garden. After we bought presents for our families, and paid for our visit, she even gave us a little something as a honeymoon present. We were thankful for our 4×4 on the way back, as it had snowed heavily in the 2 hours we had been there and the road back was literally a very long dirt track, with some steep inclines, declines and ditches. It probably would have been fine with a normal car, but coming from a country where life stops when it snows an inch, it was that extra bit of reassurance.
What animal activities have you done on your world travels? Any recommendations for us?