Icelandic farmer Pálína Axelsdóttir Njarðvík balances farm life and city life
“Look, there is one there that is breathing a bit weirdly in the corner. We should keep an eye on her,” says Pálína Axelsdóttir Njarðvík as she walks around the farm checking about 200 sheep expected to give birth any day now. It’s the third day of the lambing season and the beginning of a few busy weeks on her family’s farm in South Iceland. With Sunna, whom Pálína lovingly refers to as ‘my puppy,’ by her side, she’s fully prepared.
This farm has been in my family for, I think, seven generations. My parents live here, and my uncles and aunts farm here. I help out as much as I can and during lambing I’m always here. I like to spend time with the sheep and, in general, help out and have an opinion on everything. But I also live in Reykjavík with my girlfriend María, and I have a job there. I moved to Reykjavík when I was 16 so I could go to school there. Then I went to university and did a master’s degree in Social Psychology.
I’ve been helping out as long as I’ve been able. As a kid who lives on a farm, you get tasks as you grow, and you always get more and more responsibility until you are doing everything. I always liked it. I don’t think I’ve ever really seen it as a job. Obviously, it is a job, but it’s also just your life when you live on a farm. As a child you enjoy being around animals, your parents, relatives, and just being out and about.
I feel like I get the best of both worlds. I get to spend time at the farm, but I also have a life in Reykjavík.
I started my Instagram in 2015 and I didn’t really expect much. I thought maybe someone out there wants to learn about sheep farming in Iceland, and I have a lot of pictures and stories to share. I just started posting and somehow it took off. I would like to say it just happened, but obviously, there is a lot of work behind it. I really enjoy it, and obviously I have strong opinions regarding everything connected to sheep, farming, animal welfare and so on. I don’t like factory farming. It should not be called farming. It has nothing to do with how people farm.
I feel like I have a message that I want to share — I think sheep are quite underrated in general, people don’t really know them. But sheep are great animals, as you learn when you see the connection that you can have with them. My Instagram opens a little window into this world.
Circle of life
During lambing season, someone has to be in the sheep house every hour of the day. We take turns during the night, someone stays up a bit late, someone wakes up in the middle of the night and someone goes very early in the morning. Throughout the day, we all help out with what has to be done. During lambing, you don’t sleep enough. If something goes wrong, you get called out and you have to go and help the sheep deliver.
It’s horrible if you see a dead lamb and you know it’s dead because you weren’t there. We want to avoid that, obviously. We feed them twice a day, in the morning and then in the afternoon. Between the feedings there’s just a lot to do — we’re always keeping an eye if someone is giving birth and then we keep an eye on the birth so we know if we have to help them. Usually we don’t have to, but it’s always better to know what’s going on.
If you see that there’s only a head coming out and no legs, you have to go in and find the legs. And if you get the back legs, you have to get the lamb out quickly. I feel like today I know pretty much everything. That’s why I get the least sleep sometimes.
This year, lambing will be a lot different for me, because it’s not just the sheep who are pregnant — I am too! During pregnancy, I have to avoid some things, so I am playing a less active role than usual. But of course, I want to be here and be a part of everything.
The ties that bind
If you have animals, you’re going to get connected to some of them. We were walking with my Sunna earlier today. She grew up in our basement because she was very weak when she was born. I took her home and nursed her back to health. She’s deaf and she was really tiny. She wouldn’t have stood a chance alone because her mother didn’t care for her. We have a very strong bond. She’s more of a pet, really. When we walk around the paddock to look at the sheep, she always follows us like a dog.
We’re all animals, in a way. We all have feelings. We all feel sad, happy or hungry. Sheep have sheep friends, they hang out with their families, we often see a mother and her daughter spending the summer together, even if they are both adults, and sisters spend summers together too.
I don’t think I’ll ever grow tired of this. The farm might change, but it will still be our family’s farm. The roots are so deep here. I can’t imagine not having this farm and being able to be here as much as I want.
Follow Pálína’s farming adventures on Instagram: @farmlifeiceland
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