Meet the ‘Vikings’ with an Irish Connection Dairy-Farming in a Cold, Dark ‘Paradise’

Erpsstaðir Creamery is home to some of the largest glaciers in Europe, as well as one of the world’s most active volcanoes.

That small-scale, family-owned dairy processing unit is a two-hour drive north of Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik.

The creamery and farm are owned and operated by orgrimur Einar Guðbjartsson and his wife Helga, who have five children.

The farm is 2,100ac, but only 173ac is workable pasture, with the rest mountainous and unproductive landscape. orgrimur also rents 120ac pasture from neighboring farmers.

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sheep on a typical Icelandic landscape

There are a total of 80 cows in the farm, of which 60 are in milk on an average throughout the year. More than 200 cattle are present at any given time.

“We are descendants of the original settlers,” says orgrimur. “Most of today’s Icelanders in the Dalir district of West Iceland are of Celtic origin.”

The recorded history of Iceland begins with the settlement of Viking explorers with people from Norway, Britain and Ireland in 874 AD.

Archaeological evidence indicates that Irish monks settled in Iceland before the Norsemen.

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Nearly half of the 24,000 dairy cows in Iceland are milked by robots

There is a strong Irish connection with the Vikings who went to Iceland.

Odd the Wise (834–900 AD) is one of the most important characters in the history of the country. She was among the first Viking settlers who claimed a vast territory on the land of fire and ice.

Odd was married to Olaf the White (806–871), the self-proclaimed King of Dublin after several raids in England and the Irish capital. Before Olaf’s death in battle, the pair had a son, Thorstein the Red, and a daughter, Jokunda Olafsadtir – Princess of Dublin.

Thorstein was a notable chieftain, like his father, who conquered half of Scotland before dying in battle.

A pioneer for her time, Aude sailed for Iceland from the Orkney Islands in northern Scotland. Also in this expedition was Erpur Meldungsan, a Viking from the British Isles who had become a slave to the odds.

Upon arrival in Iceland, Erpur was freed by the Aud and received a land called Soufel to establish his own estate.

Orgrimur, a direct descendant of Erpur for 30 generations, now cultivates these lands.

Most of the history has been preserved over 1,100 years. slendingabók is an online database containing information about the ancestry of almost all of Iceland’s population, including 900,000 individuals from the original settlers to the present day.

Orgrimur’s father, Guðbjartur, was a welder and his mother, Erna, was a housewife. When Orgrimur was seven years old, his parents bought a farm along the west coast in Felsstrand. He was a dairy farmer and reared 25 cows.

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There has been no cross-breeding with the Icelandic dairy cow, making it one of the oldest pure breeds in Europe.

After school, Orgrimur studied at the Icelandic Agricultural University of Havanari for two years. In 1988, at the age of 18, he traveled to New Zealand on an exchange program for a year.

“I wanted to get as far away as possible and experience life on the other side of the world. I worked as a fruit picker at a kiwi farm and a 200 cow dairy farm,” he says.

Upon his return to Iceland, Orgrimur worked on various farms in the Vestfjords region and reunited with Helga, whom he had known at school.

In 1996, the couple – who had two children – moved to Denmark, where orgrimur studied cheese making and became a qualified technician four years later.

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More than 20,000 liters of milk are used on the farm for dairy products

In 1997, the family moved back to Iceland, and set up their own dairy enterprise.

“We wanted to live in the countryside, and farming was the only option at that time. I made a low bid for the land available in Souffel and to my surprise it was accepted,” says Þorgrimur.

“We originally intended to stay here and build a business for 20 years. Those years have come and gone since then and neither of us wants to leave. We established the business we wanted and now the results It’s time to enjoy.”

One thing you notice when traveling to Iceland is the complete lack of agricultural security. Ten thousand euros worth of manure and agricultural machinery are close to the main roads, and not much of a gate to deter a thief.

“Neighbors never steal – everyone will immediately know who did it. Theft is uncommon in the countryside, not as much as we have a locksmith. If you’re found stealing you’ll be excommunicated from the community,” explains orgrimur. Huh.

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Manure bags are lying on the roadside, there is no fear of theft

The field spreads 160 kg of chemical nitrogen per acre to the meadow. The most common fertilizer used is 27-6-6.

In 2021, orgrimur bought 47t of fertilizer for less than €25,000. This year, the cost of the same quantity is €52,000.

Nearly half of Iceland’s 24,000 dairy cows are milked by robots. The cows at Erpsstaðir Creamery are milked by DeLaval VMS.

The Icelandic dairy cow is smaller and weighs less than 500 kg on average. Most of the voting has taken place after several decades of selection.

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Iceland’s dairy cow is small in stature and weighs less than 500 kg on average

To date, there has been no cross-breeding with the dairy cow, making it one of the oldest pure breeds in Europe.

Only in the late 1900s were the Angus, Galloway and Limousin genes imported for use in meat production.

The cows at Erpsstaðir Creamery produce an average of 6,800L/yr. They are fed 1.7 tonnes of imported grain during an average year.

Of the 400,000L of milk produced each year by the herd, 40,000L is used for raising calves, 20,000L is used for dairy products, and the rest is sold as fresh milk.

Heat for the house, farm and dairy unit is provided through a geothermal spring 6 km away.

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Heat for the dairy unit is provided through a geothermal spring located 6 km away.

During the summer, the Erpsstaðir Creamery has five full-time members of staff working in the shop, the dairy processing unit and the farm.

Being so far north, Iceland gets very long days in summer and very long nights in winter: barely four hours of daylight on December 21.

Iceland’s farmers have to work around these extremes, but there are some advantages even in the depths of winter.

“A typical winter day I wake up in the morning and it’s dark,” Orgrimur says. “I work out first and then I come back for breakfast and a nap.

“Then in the afternoon it brightens a bit and I go on with the rest.

“I have a nice meal in the evening and spend time in the Jacuzzi under the Northern Lights. It’s amazing when the snow falls and you have a mix of heat from the geothermal springs and cold from the environment – it’s heaven.

“During the summer we work hard. I get 3-5 hours of sleep every night. I work on short naps – I would stop the tractor in the middle of the field for 20 minutes before continuing again Shakes his head

How the Icelandic Goat Went From Close to Extinction to Starring game of Thrones

The Icelandic goat is twice on the verge of extinction – in 1963 the number dropped to just 83.

The breed is believed to have originated from Norway and has been isolated since the first settlement in Iceland without any cross-breeding.

To slow the decline of the breed, the Icelandic government introduced a fund known as ‘Conservation Assistance’ for the first 20 goats in the herd.

Although the fund encouraged farms to keep goats – also known as settlement goats – it is Johanna Bergmann orvaldsdóttir who has been credited with ensuring a future for the breed through her advocacy work.

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Johanna Bergmann valdsdóttir is credited with ensuring the future of the Icelandic goat

Hafell, an hour’s drive south of Erpsstaðir Creamery, is Iceland’s largest goat farm and the first farm to keep goats as its main livestock.

Johanna acquired the farm from her parents along with Objrn Odsson and in 1999 bought only three hornless goats in Iceland, the last of which were two brown goats.

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The breed is believed to have originated from Norway and has been isolated since the first settlement in Iceland.

There were 1,300 goats in the country in 2017, and in order to be taken out of the endangered breed list, there must be at least 5,000 females.

Johanna has a total of 190 goats, and 135 of these are breeding females. Goats produce milk, meat, tallow, hides and wool – some of which are cashmere. From milk, Hafel produces cheese and ice cream.

On two occasions Hafele Farms has been supported by online crowd-funding, with donors from around the world.

In 2013, a team from game of Thrones Smash was in Iceland for the fourth season of the TV series and brought goats from Hafell for one scene.

“If you are trying to save a breed, you have to use what they give. The goats would not be here if I had decided not to take care of them,” says Johanna.

“I am very proud to see my flock and to see that they are alive because of my work. It’s just like when you have kids – you’re so proud of them, and I’m so proud of my goats.”