SHEEP FARMING IN THE FALKLAND ISLANDS
Introducing Amy Jonson
My family and I arrived in the Falklands, from South Wales, UK in December 1983 where my father was employed as a tractor driver at Port Stephens on West Falkland, and my mother later became the farm cook. I was four and a half at the time. There were two other children on the farm and we had a teacher and school house.
In June 1989 we moved out to live on Bombilla to run it as a sheep farm. My father had purchased this 12,500 acre sheep farm supporting approximately 2000 sheep.
Bombilla farm is fifty miles from the nearest town and accessed by a potholed gravel and clay road. Being so isolated radio lessons were part of my education for a time before going to boarding school in Stanley. I finished school in 1995 with five GCSE's under my belt and went on to work for the Government in the Pensions Dept.
I journeyed to the UK in 1999 but family circumstances forced me to return to Bombilla in 2000. Since then I have been working in different jobs including a Travel Agent and Office Manager in our EU standard abattoir, as well as helping out on the farm as often as I can.
I decided to write this article because I realised that our way of farming is completely unique to the Falklands and this may give an interesting and different insight into our sheep farming today.
I enjoy reading many types of books because I think much knowledge can be obtained from them, especially real life accounts, and I hope that by writing I can let others in to my little corner of the world.
By Amy Jonson
The sheep farm which I live on is 12,500 acres, supporting approximately 2000 sheep. The farm name "Bombilla" actually comes from the Gaucho word for a pipe used for drinking matte tea. Our farm is family owned with my parents, myself and younger sister, but we are not always present, as work commitments in the only town on the islands and schooling means we are very often away.
Bombilla farm is fifty miles away from the town, accessed by only a gravel and clay road with copious amounts of pot holes! Our land is devoid of any trees, and the pasture is mainly made up of white grass, Diddle-Dee bush and Christmas bush, with some Gorse bushes scattered around the islands.
We farm sheep solely for wool production and a small amount of meat for our own consumption which we slaughter ourselves.
The first step to successful wool production is seeking out the correct breed of animal to suit the environment. This is especially important in the Falklands as it is simply not practical to handle our sheep on a regular basis, apart from shearing once a year and marking lambs.
Our requirements are relatively simple; a breed of sheep that in effect can look after itself off the shears and can lamb without much difficulty, and will also clip a good fleece. Because of our expansive acreage it was practical for us to use our small flock of pet sheep as a breeding experiment, so we could monitor their progress in and around the paddocks around the house. We discovered that crossing a Romney ewe with a Corriedale ram was the most effective for a number of reasons:
- The animals were found to be good doers in our environment and also were good and capable mothers,
- The animals clipped a good fleece weight approximately 4 kilos,
- They tended to not be wool blind by having clear faces or channels in the facial wool, so did not fall in ditches, and could see what to eat,
- Their feet were hard and black, and they were also of good enough quality for our personal meat requirements.
Once the breed was established, any faults were bred out such as wool blindness and black spots, by way of culling and castrating rams.
The sheep are brought in once a year to be shorn by contract shearers. Once fleeces have been clipped all stain has to be removed; ( i.e. blood, urine and faeces), and fleeces are classed according to micron AB and C. A being the finest wool and C being the roughest. Our own micron range is 26 - 30 micron on average.
Wool is then pressed up and baled according to class, and it is very important that the bales are presented well. We use ink and stencils to define clearly the farm name, class, number, and whether it is ewe/ram/wither etc.
The bales are then collected and shipped to Bradford in UK where they are sampled and core tested. We generally sell our wool through an agent in the UK, giving him instructions on when to sell if we wish. The secret of good selling is to study the trends and patterns of the market in previous years. The market generally has a seven year cycle which you can use to identify the peaks of market prices. Always sell just before the peak if you can, as the prices won't be long to fall thereafter.
Of course this is all null and void if your animals have a high fatality rate. Ensuring their survival is always paramount and we have learned over the years through trial and error, various methods of doing just that.
The vet is normally slow to respond to call outs; the last excuse being that he had "too many cats to spey", in his own words, so we use an array of unorthodox treatments and tools for a wide range of illnesses, although very often we know the symptoms but not what the technical name of the condition actually is.
We can cure a number of ailments, such as colic, and various stomach disorders (including diahorrea) with Chlorodyne B.P. which is, in fact originally for humans. Also pizzles being cut off during shearing (if left untreated will be fatal). This particular condition requires the rather strange sounding use of orange juice carton straws and a syringe! Sheep very often get down; this is caused by too much wool and scratching, and getting them to their feet requires a lot of patience and experience too. Bone breaks, dislocations, occasional lambing problems (if the animal is located in time) and a number of other problems, with the only medical assistance being a limited amount of penicillin.
It is a lot of hard work, requiring much patience, but it saves a fortune in vet's fees!
All in all the work is hard, with not very much reward at the end of the day, but, there is a large element of job satisfaction, which is pretty difficult to come by in this day and age.