Falklands prove to be an island paradise – for sheep

THE description of a sheep industry full of confidence, profitability and fully supported by government may trigger some head scratching until it is realised that the description relates not to keeping sheep in this country but to the main industry in the Falkland Islands.

John Cameron, who before selling his extensive land in Fife and Perthshire was dubbed "the biggest sheep farmer in Europe", has just returned from the islands in the South Atlantic and provided the positive views above.

There are about 600,000 mature sheep in the Falklands – including wedders for wool – plus the annual lamb crop, giving a total of just under a million head of sheep.

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Wool remains the main land-based export. Most of the sheep are Corriedale cross Merino. Retaining strong links with the United Kingdom, the high quality wool from the sheep is shipped in bales to the British Wool Marketing Board in Bradford.

According to Cameron, sheep producers in the Falklands are getting about 4 per kilo and the average weight of a fleece is about 4 kilos, giving a return of about 16 per head of sheep.

In addition sheep farmers in the Falklands sell their cast ewes and cast wedders for mutton. The Falkland Islands government has built an abattoir and this quality mutton is now all exported, most of it going to the US.

The farms on the islands are all large scale and Cameron visited three of the units using the islands' air service, with the seven-seater Islander aircraft landing on grass strips at each sheep station.

The first visit was to Goose Green, which has a stock of 50,000 breeding ewes and 35,000 wedders for wool production; Next, a "croft" on Pebble Island with "only" 50,000 head and finally to Port Howard with 50,000 ewes and 25,000 wedders.

The sheep are kept outside on the hill pastures all year with no supplementary rations. The shepherding on the islands is minimal, with lambing percentages varying from 70 per cent to 80 per cent, depending on the severity of the winters.

Gatherings are limited to about two a year and are carried out with motorbikes and dogs, especially the latter.

Cameron's visit coincided with the islands' summer and shearing was in full swing. He saw shearing sheds with eight or ten or even up to a dozen "capable shearers" all going flat out. Some were clipping more than 300 sheep a day.

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A good day's clipping is anything from 1,700 to 2,000 sheep. Cameron said he was very impressed with the care they take of the wool. In the sheds there were always two or three people sorting out the wool on wool tables.

Referring to the support given to the industry by the island government, Cameron said that re-seeding out on the sheep stations was encouraged by the government, unlike the situation in Scotland.

Grants are provided for grass seed and fencing, with an allocation per hectare re-seeded of fertiliser, which is made from local seaweed and supplied free.

In addition all the island roads, which in most cases are also the sheep station roads, are maintained by the government and that included the appropriate livestock grids on these roads, which were also constructed by the government.