Family-owned sheep farm in Moll’s Gap, Ireland
The farm is run by John and Anne Kissane. It is a traditional, working sheep farm with approximately 1,000 mountain sheep and hundreds of lambs. The farm has been in John’s family for 150 years. He is 5th generation on the farm. “John was born and raised here on the farm. He grew up helping his father and always loved the job. So for him it was a very easy decision to join his father in running the family farm. John was only 12 years of age when he started helping his father fulltime. He didn’t like school and decided he would be better off working on the farm,” says Anne.
Kissane Sheep Farm is a traditional, working sheep farm with approx. 1,000 mostly black faced mountain sheep (originally Scottish) and approx. 25 breeding rams. “We have in total approx. 3,000 acres (over 1,000 ha),” informs John.
With low prices of wool and sheep/lambs, the farm is faced with challenges. “The subsidies are going down as well. Since a number of years we get EU subsidies, just like all other European farmers. Eventually the subsidies will end or go back to very few Euros per year. This means we can’t pay the bills anymore for feeding the sheep in winter and do the necessary maintenance on the farm,” laments Anne.
Adopt a Sheep Program
Speaking about their Adopt a Sheep program, Anne says, “We started Adopt a Sheep and opened the farm for visitors in May 2005. Since then we have had lots of people visiting and adopting our sheep. In 2011 almost 400 of our sheep were adopted and over 8,000 people visited our farm. Already we have over 100 group bookings in our diary for 2012. We’re still growing as a tourism attraction and hopefully we’ll be able to survive as a farm when subsidies are gone.”
The activities offered by the farm to the visitors include:
· Sheep dog demonstrations
· Sheep shearing demonstrations
· Cuddle and bottle feed the orphan (pet) lambs
· Marked mountain walks
· Puzzle Walk and Treasure Trail
The sheep are sheared once a year. Before the farm was opened to visitors, the sheep would be sheared in July/August, depending on the weather. “As you know we sometimes have wet summers in Ireland and we would wait for the good weather to gather the sheep and shear them. This would take approx. 2 weeks. Nowadays we start shearing the yearlings in April when the tourism season starts, and we shear all through the summer for visitors. The last time sheep we sheared this year was early November when we had our last group visit to the farm.
We shear the sheep and sell the wool to a local wool merchant. The past 3 years we received €365 (2009), €650 (2010) and €1240 (2011) for the same amount of wool. This shows how low the prices have been and how slowly the prices are rising again. Still the money isn’t enough to make a living. When John was growing up on this farm the wool would make a half year income,” says Anne.
The demand for wool is reducing as lots of synthetic products are replacing wool. It is mainly used for rugs and carpets but houses nowadays have tile or wooden floors, reducing the use of woollen carpets or rugs. “Also on our beds we don’t use woollen blankets anymore but duvets. There is a new development where wool is used for insulation of houses. This might be a future for our wool,” points out Anne.
Informing about the practices followed in the farm for the well-being of sheep, Anne says, “We have mountain sheep and they love to be in the mountains. John leaves them there most of the year as that’s where they are happiest. 5-6 times per year he gathers all the sheep to check if they are healthy; give them the vaccinations they need; and once a year to shear them. In winter John brings feed (sheep ration) to over 20 places in the mountains. He puts sheep troughs and the sheep come to the feeding places. The feed is necessary to help them survive as in winter the mountains are very bare and there is not enough natural food for them. We have 9 border collies, who help in rounding up the sheep.”
Besides John and Anne, John’s brother also helps with the farm administration and guided group tours. “In summer we also work with 1 farmer who helps us part time. He does most of our shearing demonstrations as he is a professional shearer as well. He also helps in gathering the sheep in the mountains. Furthermore we have 2 local freelancers helping us part time with our guided tours,” informs Anne.
Speaking about their future plans, Anne says, “We are still focusing on getting more group visits to our farm. We also hope to increase our sheep adoptions to the numbers we had before the crisis hit. In 2008 almost 500 of our sheep were adopted. Every year we invest in the visitors’ facilities. We’ll keep doing that until all subsidies are gone. Hopefully our set up will be perfect by that time.”
Future of Sheep Farming
Speaking about the future of sheep farming, she says, “Most people don’t see yet that there are less and less sheep in Ireland, especially in the mountains where we live. Since 2011 the prices for sheep are rising a little bit again, but as explained earlier it doesn’t pay all the bills and certainly doesn’t make an income. Due to the economic crisis lots of people try to give away their dogs/cats or sell their horses, as they can’t afford to feed them anymore. It is a sad situation and animal welfare organizations are very busy trying to solve those problems. The sheep are still owned by farmers who will always try their hardest to keep their animals healthy as that is their job/profession.”
Advising people about taking up sheep farming, she adds, “Here in Ireland it is very difficult to get into sheep farming. The costs of buying a farm and all animals are too high to make it viable. We advise them to do something besides the usual activities as from sheep farming alone you can’t make an income at the moment. Unfortunately we can’t look into the future to see if prices will go up enough to make it viable again.”
John has been working full time as a sheep farmer for over 30 years. He did some agricultural courses after primary school. Anne went to University Utrecht in The Netherlands studying the Dutch language, and Mass Communications & Public Relations. She also did several PR and marketing courses. Anne has worked as a PR manager and PR adviser since 1989. She handles the PR of the farm.
For more information, contact :
John, Anne, & Sean Kissane, Kissane Sheep Farm,
Moll’s Gap, Kenmare, Co. Kerry, Ireland
Tel +353 64 66 34791
Source : Agriculture & Industry Survey [/hidepost]