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Horsebreeding among extreme climatic conditions

Icelandic horses in their native environment Iceland is an country where very hard climatic conditions are taking place: the annual average temperature usually not exceed 5,1 degrees and therefore only 1 per cent of the islands area of 103.106 square kilometers may be used by agriculture.

People settled first on the island in the year 874. Along with these people also the first horses, norwegian and celtic ponies, arrived at Iceland. Unlike cattles, wich were not be able to survive during the extreme climatic environment, the ponies were very good adaptable to the hard conditions. Because the ponies were always the only higher animals on the isle, who may survive without effordable stables, they were also used for meat production by the settlers for ages.

People on Iceland realised early the importance of the horses robustness for their own survival. So special laws were issued to preserve the breed of "Icelandic horses": Since the year 930 it is strongly forbidden to bring new horses to the isle. This law take place until now. Even horses, wich are born on the island may not be re-imported if they have left their native country once. Over 1000 years now there are an livestock amount of about 50.000 horses on the island. They are nearly perfect adapted to the natural environment.

Among the tradition of eating horsemeat, the first norwegian and celtic settlers kept up much more heaten habits: So battles between stalions and religious horsesymbols were popular, but also the putting of horses into the graves of diet leaders.

In the middle ages christian missionaries arrived at the island and tried to forbid all behaviors of an heaten culture. Therefore serious punishments were issued for the eating of horsemeat. Like in other parts of europe, these religious laws had badly consequences for the poor inhabitans because the amount of available nutriditions became smaller and smaller. So the laws were broken again and again and the history has splitted up the society until now into people who do eating horsemeat and people who do not.

However, the meat of horses and foals is very popular today. There are many restaurants in Rejkjavik wich offer horsemeat dishes. The meat of foals is known as an national speciality and is exposed with an extra word in speachguides.

Traditional the raising of horses for meat production is separate from those of working ones. The feeding of slaughterbound horses resides mainly in the more deserted areas in the islands east. About 90 per cent from an total amount of 40.000 animals kept outdoors all over the year and is feeded by additional food in exceptional cases only. One half of the ponies lives in complete freedom at extensive pastures.

Young mares are used in breeding for the first time at the age of 4 years. One stalion get a little crowd of about 16 mares for a short period and is then switched into an other crowd. This period belongs from june until august. The method of mating by a "free jump" has been very successful, so the share of living foals gets nearly 100 per cent. The foals then stayed by their mares until the next highly pregnancy.

Every year in autumn the crowds will be rearranged an positioned into climatic more appropriated downsided places for wintertime. On this occasion a large amount of one year old foals are taken off the crowds and prepared for slaughtering.

Altogether, annually about 10.000 horses and foals where slaughtered. This seems to be a considerable part of an overall amount of 40.000 animals. The adult ponies have a high from 128 to 132 cm and are getting an living-weight of average 320 to 385 kg. The carcass-weight is about 175 to 250 kg (55 to 67 per cent). Most of the icelandic people enjoy horsemeat, but the meat is also exported to france and belgium in large amounts.

Especially against the consumption of meat of foals there may be moral objections, but we should take into account, that the animals on iceland live in such a freedom, that our horses ans cattles can only dream of. In addition the icelandic breeders have to calculate exactly, how many animals they can feed by the poor vegetation.

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