Friday, 30 September 2011

What to do?

Picture from Sheep 101

I have been away for a few days and I sort of lost my posting schedule, I'm one of those people still refusing to get a smartphone. I was in Sarajevo for a weekend to visit a dear friend. I was so excited when I left that I forgot my camera and I couldn't find a disposable one in Sarajevo. Therefore, No pictures but lots of good memories.
It's time to talk about P.'s and my plans and about the way we want to use this land's potential.
Whizzie has of course her own plans and I'll probably write about those too, if she wants, but for now let's talk sheep.
In fact this is what we want to breed: sheep! I love sheep! they are so cute! Ok I'm joking, that's not why we went in that direction :)
Sheep were almost an obligate choice. As you might know, if you want to sustain your animals with the land you have at your disposal throughout the whole year, you have to consider animal density as a crucial factor. Animal density is calculated using the so called Livestock Units (LUs). One hectar of pasture is sufficient to sustain 1.0 LU through the whole year and this corresponds to an adult dairy cow. Now, here's a good page with some comparisons: Grazing Livestock Units equivalents, and another one with pigs too: Eurostat.
So, for an 8 hectare farm, dairy cows, horses or beef would not be a good choice because you'd be able to keep at most 10 of them and even using intelligent market strategies it would be difficult to get a decent amount of money out of such a small number of animals. Plus, these are big animals, need big housing solutions and big milking facilities.
Another possible solution I explored at the beginning was breeding sows/pigs for the production of cured meats. Unfortunately the land at our disposal is not suitable for extensive/outdoor pig rearing and it's actually a bit of a waste. Pigs thrive in woods in marginal steep areas and it is a kind of production that is coming back in Italy where we have lots of those woods with oaks, holm oaks, chestnuts and so on, but putting them on green, lush pasture? No thanks. They do that in the UK but the only difference with pigs reared intensively is that they live in a field, but you still have to provide 95% of the diet. A bit of a waste of space if you ask me.
So we were left really with two options: chickens and sheep. There isn't a rabbit culture in Ireland and like in the UK they are considered either a pest or a pet :)
Regarding the chickens, hens, eggs and so on, there is a lot of competition already, it seems like it has become the new sector of enterprise for every single hippie in West Cork. So we might get a reasonable number of hens but only to optimise pasture gains (more later on this).
Sheep sound good because 1 adult sheep is considered to be between 0.1 and 0.2 LUs. This means that Whizzie's land could sustain at least 40 adult sheep. Now, if we were talking just meat/wool breeds the figure would have been closer to 80 animals but money in meat and wool is very little and we want to go dairy. A better figure for dairy sheep in terms of density is probably closer to 0.2 LUs.
Dairy sheep sound a lot better because although the wool is of lower quality, the meat is pretty much still there and the added value you can get from transforming milk into cheese is among the biggest around (it's up there with cured meats).
So, I'll leave you with that. Start imagining beautiful dairy sheep and lots of cheese, I can tell you, this image has been haunting us in our sleep for quite a while.

1 comment:

  1. I am sooo happy to read this and very, very excited on your behalf! Seb and I would join you if it wren't in Ireland... :o) I need more sun, less rain.

    But I will certainly stay tuned and already look forward to learning more about your project! I wouldn't mind doing something just like it myself some day!



Comments welcome from almost everyone :)