Wool craftsman abandons former careers gardening and horse training
In this week’s sheep segment, It’s farming, is for Carly Murnane, a professional wool maker and shepherdess. We discuss his expertise in the craft of wool, his journey in sustainable agriculture, the lambing system, his passion for the surrounding ecosystems and his plans for the future.
Carly (42) was born in Devon in the UK but moved to West Cork aged 10 with her family.
While running a wool craft business, Carly has an equine background, having grown up with ponies and working and training horses until she was 30.
After her equestrian career, she began her career as a shepherdess.
“My maternal grandparents were smallholders raising mixed orchards and fruit and vegetable orchards on about 5 acres, and my parents carried on the tradition of farming and market gardening,” she says. It’s farming.
“I am the first generation to farm on a slightly larger scale and raise sheep. I’ve always had an interest in self-sufficiency and living off the land, as well as a love of animals.
Carly explored avenues to diversify and enhance its ovine products by exploiting all the resources they can provide us.
“I started by learning how to tan the hides of the animals we raised for meat that would otherwise have been wasted, and that led me to explore wool crafts as well.”
“I’ve always had an interest in arts and crafts, so this job combines that with my passion for animals and agriculture.”
She sells her naturally hand-tanned sheepskins, felted vegetarian “live sheepskins,” which are 100% wool made from sheared fleeces.
His range of sheepskin also includes hand-woven natural wool rugs from his flock.
Carly’s interest in sheep developed about eight years ago, for which she previously raised horses, goats and poultry.
The farm, which comprises 22 acres of mounted property, as well as grazing arrangements where the herd is grazed to maintain pasture for some small farmers, is in Inchigeelagh, Co Cork.
“I bought the land at the end of 2019, and we have gradually moved away from the lowland pastures rented there over the past two years.
In addition, she works full-time on the farm alongside her career as a craftswoman, having worked as a gardener and horse trainer.
Mayo-Connemara Blackface, Jacobs, Shetlands and crosses are the main breeds on the farm.
“These breeds are sought after for their hardiness and suitability for grazing mountain land, as well as their long fleeces, which are perfect for making my felted fleece rugs.”
“I am still in the early stages of herding, having previously had a very small lowland herd. It has only been in the last two years that I have made the transition to building a hill herd.
Currently, Carly has 25 ewes, with plans to grow to 35 to 40 over the next two years.
“This year we lambed in mid-April over five weeks, but we plan to push it back to late April until May next year. This will suit the conditions on the hill better.
Carly lambs her sheep indoors in polytunnels using cameras for help.
“I use cameras for convenience as I lamb alone, and with such a small number of ewes I don’t want to get up at night unless I have to.”
“We try to time lambing for spring grass, so we can get ewes and lambs out as soon as they are up and suckling.”
She plans to use a teaser in the future because with a small flock it would be more practical to lamb them as close as possible.
Carly keeps replacement lambs to build the herd; they also produce a small amount of meat. This includes lamb and pork for local community supply.
“Shetland lambs are small but have a high meat-to-bone ratio, great flavorful meat and do well on tough pastures. This is suitable for a very low input system.
From now on, the shepherdess hopes to produce quality breeding stock in the future.
“I breed for hardiness, resistance to pests and foot problems, and the ability to thrive in an organic system with very few inputs, as well as excellent fleece quality in a variety of natural colors.”
“We had a live lambing percentage of 160% this year, which I’m happy with for a young flock with lambs raised on the hill.
Carly aims for strong singles among the hill sheep and a minimum number of twins.
“Good grass is limited, and my aim is to limit intakes, although Shetlanders have proven they can easily raise twins up the hill.”
Sustainable agriculture in Cork
“I love working with sheep – they all have names. Most are friendly, and I know them all individually and enjoy being with them.
The Cork shepherdess says her passion for farming is driven by connection to the land, being in nature and living simply and sustainably.
“We take care of the land, and the land takes care of us. There’s something deeply gratifying about that; it’s hard to put it into words.
“I’m mostly driven by farming with nature, working with the land in a regenerative way, building better soils, diversity and productivity.”
“All of this while being sensitive to the existing ecology of the land and the wider environment. I think this is the way forward for sustainable agriculture.
Looking to the future, Carly plans to remove the Jacobs and Half-Breeds, as she feels they don’t work well in the current system.
“I intend to focus on the Mayo-Connemara Blackface, increasing the number of these over the next two years by retaining replacements. This year I will probably buy a few more Blackface ewes.
She hopes to have a strong herd that is well adapted to the conditions, raising her lambs on the hillside and producing good fleeces of various natural colors for her mats.
“I’ve always worked with animals on the land, and coming from a small farm I came into farming with a simple philosophy of living sustainably from the land we live on.”
“Sheep have become an integral part of the management of our mountain lands, providing us with food and fiber from marginal lands that would not produce much else.”
She concludes: “I still learn a lot every day from sheep and other experienced farmers. I am excited about the future of the farm and the herd.
Carly sells her natural sheepskin products online via Etsy – Wild Irish Shepherdess. Plus, you can follow her journey on her instagram platform, @wildirishshepherdess.
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