In this week’s Farmer’s Diary, sheep farmer, Clodagh Hughes, discusses shearing, feet problems and wool prices.
Woohoo! Shearing time finally came and it is such a relief to have it over with. I had said that I wasn’t in a major rush to shear due to the ever-changing weather conditions this year.
However, at the same time, it is great to have it done, as it is a big job and, getting bigger each year as my flock grows.
The man shearing for me was brilliant. He could not have been nicer, there was good craic and, I learned so much from him. He is shearing for thirty years and has kept sheep as long.
Furthermore, he was very generous with his time and, advice on things woolly.
Also, he gave me pointers on the politics at marts and watching out for pitfalls that can happen to an inexperienced sheep farmer!
Now, I have to get serious for a minute, folks; we as farmers have a duty of care to look after our livestock to the very best of our abilities.
By now, you all realise that there is a fair bit of handling with sheep.
I am by no means intimating that any other type of livestock farming is easier or, that it requires less dedication than sheep farming.
It is just that, with sheep, there are a few extra things that need attention, or there could be serious welfare implications if ignored.
You have all heard me go on about sheep’s feet. The ovine beast is not best suited to our temperate climate here in Ireland and, because of our mostly ‘moist’ climate, they suffer from feet problems.
This year, in particular, has been a challenge for farmers to keep on top of foot issues due to the very wet spring and early summer we have had so far.
De-valuing of wool
Another challenge for sheep farmers in Ireland is the de-valuing of wool in recent years.
I am not going to bore you with all the details but, suffice it to say, it’s deplorable.
Wool is currently reaching the heady heights of 20c/KG. This would not even pay the farmer to shear their sheep, never mind making a small profit! Yet, each and every sheep must be shorn.
Wool is categorised as a waste product whereas, once upon a time, it was an essential and even luxurious fibre.
Of course, there are breeds of sheep that produce beautiful fleeces and, I fully recognise that my breeds do not produce the same calibre of fleece but, this does not mean the wool is useless!
Far from it, wool is still used in insulation, as an organic fertiliser and, I believe it is also used for carpets (I could write a whole article on this subject).
It is the farmer who is not getting a fair deal.
The wonderful thing is that there are people all around Ireland pushing to showcase the benefits and, qualities of Irish wool, which; for the eco-friendly times we live in is very ‘on topic’.
Today, my sheep are frolicking around the fields, feeling a lot lighter on their feet!