Origin and history of the breed
The first settlers in Iceland originated mostly from Norway but to some extent also from the British Isles. The cattle that first arrived in Iceland are likely to have come from different areas and when considering the difficulties of transporting animals even over short distances on land due to geographical barriers, it can be speculated that the founding population of Icelandic cattle consisted of genetically different individuals rather than being representative of one homogenous population.
Since the settlement, only a few cattle have been imported to Iceland in order to improve the breed, the last ones around 1870. This import appears to have had minimal effect on the breed and genetic research supports the difference between Icelandic cattle and other Scandinavian breeds.
Organized breeding work began around 1900. Artificial insemination became the main breeding method around 1970 and one bull center serves the whole country. Today, the Farmers´ Association of Iceland is responsible for the breeding work and sets the course with respect to breeding goals.
There is now approx. 70,000 cattle in Iceland, and there of around 25,000 milking cows. The Icelandic cattle is the only milking cow breed in Iceland and therefore by far the main source of milk in the country.
Being an isolated breed for over 1100 years gives Icelandic cattle a unique position among other Scandinavian cattle breeds and cattle breeds in Western Europe. Although the population is small in terms of the number of animals, it can be subject to further breeding work and progress. Of course, the inbreeding level is always a consideration and has to be kept at a minimum.