On today’s instalment of the Island Farming Adventure series, Caroline Keane is headed for the beautiful Mayo island of Inishturk, 14.5 kms off the Atlantic coast.
She catches up with Eamon Heanue, who has been farming on the island for over 25 years.
Eamon’s history of farming sheep on the island stretches back a number of decades, as he explained: “I suppose I am probably 25/30 years farming sheep on the island. I started off with my uncle following him around when I was a child.”
Currently, sheep are the only farmed animal on the island, with the Mayo Connemara Blackface ewe being the most dominant breed.
The Connemara Blackface ewes have evolved and adapted to the hilly Inishturk landscapes and are well suited to the harsh conditions that pound the island in winter months.
In addition to farming Mayo Connemara ewes, Eamon crosses his ewes with a Texel Wicklow Sheffield and runs a Blackface Connemara ram with a certain proportion of them for the following year’s replacements.
Island lamb production
The lambs on the island forage for heather and a variety of wild grasses on the mountain, with no supplementary feed in their diet.
“I suppose you could nearly advertise it as organic, but we don’t!” Eamon commented.
The island is very fortunate when it comes to lambing season without the added worry of common mainland predators, although the grey crow can be a danger to young lambs.
“We are blessed in that sense. We don’t have any foxes or minks or anything like that to affect us in lambing time,” explained Eamon to Caroline.
Keeping up with tradition, Heanue likes to shear a certain amount of his sheep the old-fashioned way using the blade shears.
He finds it is a great practice when competing in shearing competitions around the country.
With a population of only 70 residents, the locals have a growing concern about what the future holds for Inishturk.
However, summer tourism shines a positive light on the island every year, with a steady flow of day visitors coming to experience the beautiful scenery, crystal clear waters, and the charming island trekking routes.
The Inishturk native explained his love for this remote island stems from its relaxed pace of life, the small, close-knit community and its safety, especially for rearing a family.
“I suppose it special to me because I am living here all my life and I don’t think I would live anywhere else, when you bring up a family it is so safe.” Eamon concluded.
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