Sheep raising is extensive, and mutton and lamb are primary meat products. Sheep are permitted to find their own grazing pasture during the warmer months and are rounded up toward the middle of September and put in shed for the winter. Cattle are raised mainly for dairying, and their number has been rising steadily; beef production is negligible. Sheep in 2001 numbered an estimated 473,000; cattle, 70,000 head; horses, 74,000; and poultry, 157,000. Estimated livestock production in 2001 included milk, 106,000 tons; mutton and lamb, 8,600 tons; and eggs, 2,000 tons. Iceland is self-sufficient in meat, dairy products, and eggs.
Icelandic farm animals are directly descended from the sheep, cattle, goats, pigs, poultry, dogs, cats, and especially horses (which were an invaluable means of travel) brought by 10th century Scandinavian settlers. In sparsely populated areas, such as the western fjords and on the east coast, farming is chiefly limited to raising sheep, although sheep farming exists in all areas of the country. Milk is produced mostly in the south and north. Except for poultry, egg, and pig production, farms are small in acreage and usually family-run. About 2,000 farmers are engaged in full-time sheep farming, and 1,000 more in mixed farming. There also are about 1,800 dairy farms in operation; Icelanders consume on average 175.l (46.2 gal) of milk per capita per year, one of the highest amounts in the world. Cheese consumption is fourth highest, after France, Germany, and Italy. Horse-breeding is also a growing branch of animal husbandry in Iceland, as the popularity of the Iceland horse (which has five gaits) grows at home and abroad.
Animal farming is a highly mechanized industry carried out by well-educated farmers; nearly one fifth of all farmers matriculate at one of three agricultural colleges in Iceland.