On Rebecca’s animal farm it’s pet, laugh, repeat
Grapevine’s dusty work car pulls over at Hólar farm, just 17 kilometres away from Búðardalur in West Iceland, and is greeted by six dogs eagerly awaiting us on the driveway. I open the car door and they immediately swarm in – sniffing me all over, wagging their tails and vying for attention. Which one will I choose to pet? A bit further on, at the stable, more animals are waiting for a pat – an exotic parrot, a giant pig named Svínka and a bunch of cheerful goats that perform tricks in exchange for candy – each with a different story of how they ended up here – and not always a happy one. But with the help of one incredible family, they are in safe hands.
Living with animals
The farm, now also advertised as a petting zoo, is the result of the tireless efforts of Rebecca Cathrine Kaad Ostenfeld and her husband. An agricultural economist from Denmark, Rebecca specialised in dairy cows during her studies, although her dream was to work with sheep. “In Denmark, there aren’t many farmers who have sheep, so I was thinking about where I could go to work with sheep. Then, I saw this advertisement – someone was looking for a person to help during the lambing season,” Rebecca shares the story of how she ended up in Iceland. “I only intended to be in Iceland for a year, but it’s been 21 years now,” she laughs while petting a dog that has taken up residency on her lap.
After working with Icelandic sheep, Rebecca guided tours in Greenland and on a whale-watching ship in Reykjavík. However, it was in a slaughterhouse in Búðardalur where she met her now husband, who comes from the Hólar farm.
The farm was never meant to be this big, Rebecca admits, and there was no plan to turn it into a petting zoo. It just sort of happened – she would rescue injured animals from the wild, and then people started approaching her, asking if she could take their animals because they were moving abroad or for other reasons. Loving animals unconditionally, Rebecca has mostly said yes to such requests. “I’ve been like this since I was a child,” she says. “Always taking care of animals, looking after wild animals and putting them back in nature, saving them or putting them down if they had to be put down.”
The farm’s stable has a peculiar shape – one of the reasons it attracted people to the farm in the first place. Once a part of an American radio station, it has since been converted into a place where animals eat, sleep and spend most of their time during winters. The petting zoo is open to the public for two months in the summer from 11:00 to 16:00, with Tuesdays always being a day off for the animals.
Beasts of bliss
The original reason for our stop at Hólar farm was to meet Krummi, the star of the award-winning series Katla. To be clear, Krummi is a talking raven. Little did I know about the variety of other animals residing there. As I entered the stable, the raven greeted me from his open cage with a dry, “Krummi.” “Nice to meet you too, pal,” I thought to myself. The stable was never calm – filled with the sounds of dozens of chickens, and the squeaks of guinea pigs, gerbils and parrots. It was here that I encountered the fluffiest rabbits I have ever seen – angora rabbits, simply little fluff balls of happiness. Rebecca allowed me to pet them and even hold one – a shy boy named Stormur, which means “storm” in Icelandic and is exactly opposite to how he behaved.
How many animals are there on the farm, I wondered. “If I had to write it down on paper, I could tell you exactly. But I’ve never counted them. Maybe around 200?” Rebecca laughs. “I do know I have 18 horses. I can tell you the names of the rabbits, guinea pigs and the birds, but as for the exact number? I’ve never added it up.”
Every night before sleeping, Rebecca mentally accounts for all the animals, ensuring everyone is fed and well. In the seven years that the farm has been running in its current setup, she has never forgotten to feed any of them.
Rebecca admits that these days, she has to say no to new animals more often – it’s getting tight at the farm. For example, she explains, “We have a limit on horses because it’s very expensive to take care of them. In the summertime, when the farm is open and money comes in from visitors, it all goes to the animals.” From basic expenses like food, most animals need regular veterinary check-ups, vitamins and maintenance of their cages.
“This is a place where everybody matters – all the animals and every person,” says Rebecca. She finds it especially rewarding when disabled people visit the farm, emphasising how therapeutic spending time with animals can be. “I can see it’s not only the people who have fun; it’s also the animals. These animals are petted by around 1,000 people every summer. Everybody pets them, takes pictures and tells them, ‘Oh, you’re the most beautiful, you’re the best,’” she smiles.
The animals that live on the farm are there to stay. “It’s very expensive,” Rebecca admits. “But it’s most important that the animals have a safe home. We don’t sell the animals here. Once they come here, they stay for the rest of their lives.” The stress an animal would have to endure from constantly changing homes is not worth any amount of money. “One person offered us 2 million ISK for this dog right here,” she says, affectionately petting the dog, “But we said she’s not for sale. You don’t sell your family members.”
A larger stable that fits all the animals comfortably is Rebecca’s big dream. “I need 40 million ISK to build a stable with bigger cages – separate ones for guinea pigs, boy rabbits, girl rabbits, this kind of rabbits, this kind of chickens,” she explains, sharing that she’s thinking about starting a crowdfunding campaign to make it happen. For now, she’s thankful when people help with animal food or come to the farm during summer, paying the entrance fee.
“I just want to give the animals a chance,” she says.
The farm is open to visitors from mid-June to mid-August. Follow Hólar farm minizoo in Iceland on Facebook for animal updates in the meantime
Buy subscriptions, t-shirts and more from our shop right here!