Sheep are the predominant form of livestock in the Faroe Islands. In the old Norse tongue, the Faroe Islands translated into "the islands of sheep". However I spied a few pretenders which were slightly too large to be masquerading as sheep. I recognized them as highland cattle from my time spent in Scotland and was curious to learn how they found themselves in the islands of sheep. I did my research and contacted Jóannes, one of the few highland cattle farmers in the Faroes. I arranged to come by his farm and spend an afternoon with him; little did i know that I would be getting a history lesson to boot!
Jóannes Patturson is a 17th generation farmer. HIs family can trace its roots to Kirkjubøur to 1550. Right after the Reformation, where all the land of the Catholic Church was seized by the King of Denmark. The Patturson's were granted rights as tenants to farm Kongsjørð (King's Land). Today the land is owned by the government but passed down to the eldest son to be the "Kings Farmer", never to be divided between the children. Jóannes took over the farm in 1999, it is one of the if not the largest farm in the islands. He still lives in his ancestral home, Kirkjubøargarður which is the oldest building in the Faroe Islands, originally built in the 11th Century from driftwood and served as the residence of the Episcopal Diocese of the Faroe Islands. It has of course seen upgrades over the years - today it is divided into a museum and learning centre that the public can visit to learn about life in the Faroe Islands in the olden days and the private living area for the Patturson's.
Jóannes invited us into his kitchen and offered us a home cooked meal. We were joined by his wife and mother. We chatted and talked about the history of his family, and the growing number of visitors that they see each year. They showed us around their home, it was great to see so many photographs and paintings of their ancestors from different time periods decorating the walls. The rooms large beams and low ceilings felt like being inside a ships hold, I mentioned that; and Jóannes explained that because wood is very scarce in the islands, often times beams and wood from wrecked or commissioned ships were used to build homes.
Jóannes has had many visitors who mainly come to see the farmhouse and adjacent church and cathedral; including the Queen of Denmark herself! So he was quite amused by the fact I was more interested in meeting his livestock.
After touring his home, we jumped into Jóannes' truck and headed over to the barn where he keeps some of his cattle. He keeps a number of horses, 350 sheep and 17 highland cattle. The breed is suited for the landscape of the Faroe Islands. The highland cattle's thick coat insulates them from the elements. While most traditional cattle breeds would fare poorly in these conditions, the highland cattle thrive - it is quite similar to the landscape they originated from, the highlands of Scotland. Its actually profitable to raise these cattle in Faroese, where traditionally cattle have been an expensive endeavour.
After feeding the larger animals who were ready to head to market, Jóannes took some hay out to two young bulls grazing on the hillside. We met one particularly special bull, Freddy. Freddy was abandoned by his mother as a calf and Jóannes took him into his home and bottle fed him in the kitchen and living room throughout the winter. He has since outgrown the door frame and can no longer enter the house, but Jóannes says from time to time, especially in bad weather, he will spot Freddy waiting outside the door begging to be let in. Jóannes gave Freddy a playful scratch of the chin as we watched him enjoy his snack. After meeting the bulls, we then drove to another field closer to the farmhouse were the cows and calfs were kept. Surprisingly calm, we were able to approach them with ease. A young cow, named Frisa (whos name translates into Fluffy) was particularly curious and came up to my camera and started licking the lens. I suppose she had accepted us into the herd.
Father to 4 children, it is safe to say that the Patturson Farm will be safe in the hands of the 18th generation one day.