Animals Everywhere

The whole country of Ireland has fewer people than the number of people in New York City. The whole country of Ireland can fit into the state of Maine. “There are 11 million chickens in Ireland, more pigs than people living in Dublin, and more cows and sheep than people in the whole country” explained our bird watching tour guide, John.  These statistics clearly explain the habitat of Ireland. Animals are a major aspect of Ireland’s habitat and make up a large part of the country’s GDP which people rely heavily on in rural Ireland. 

While driving through the west coast of Ireland, as far as the eye could see, the land is all shades of green. On this land live sheep, cows, horses, other animals and people. In Ireland, animals are given acres of land to roam and live on. These animals provide their owner’s income. Agriculture makes up €666 million of Ireland’s overall GDP. Ireland is the 6th largest exporter of meat in the world. It makes sense why there are animals everywhere you turn in rural Ireland, many people rely on these animals as their main source of income. 

        The importance of animals was evident when we went to visit the sheep farm and the mussel farm. Farmer Tom has 200 sheep that roam over hundreds of acres of land. He relies on these sheep to give birth to lambs once a year. Tom relies on the sheep farming to support him and his family. Likewise, aquatic animals are relied on for income. For example, the mussel farmer harvests many mussels every year. These mussels are used to feed his own family, sell at the farm, and sell to local restaurants. In Ireland, farmers are reliant on both land animals and sea animals to make a living. These are just two examples that show the importance of animals to Ireland’s habitat. 

Life of a Farm Animal

When looking at Ireland one of the first things I questioned while driving across the countryside was the amount of unused land and the habitat of the farm animals that inhabited them and why farmers allowed this. In the countryside it could be seen that people owned a lot of land, as homes were generally not close to each other at all. The animals on these properties have room to roam and be free to feed wherever they please on the property. This is something that is much different in the United States as farm animals tend to not have the same amount of freedom and are locked in small pens so they can have as many as possible ready for sale.

While visiting the Killary Sheep Farm, we were able to see how the farmers tend to their land and the animals on them. Tom Nee, the farmer who owned the land demonstrated how his sheep are free to roam around these fields and how he keeps track of them. He has 3 Border Collies that he uses to herd the sheep into pens so he can take care of them. Watching Tom and his dog Sylvie, I saw how he cared for the sheep as he trained his dogs not to bite and to only to direct the sheep to where he wants them to go. When asked about the dogs being happy Tom told us that, “Sylvie is only happy when she’s working and gets upset when she’s not with me.” This was something that made me realize their more than just work animals; they love to be with him.

Sheep are something you will see everywhere in Ireland and which initially made me believe wool must be a major export for these farmers. I always thought the reasons farmers sheared the sheep was to sell the wool to create clothing, which I later found out was not the case. Tom said, “this wool is worthless, you can only get $.25 for this one sheep’s wool, I shear them because they would die if I didn’t.” This explanation is something I was not expecting to hear because I didn’t understand why the farmer cared that much for all the animals he has on his property if these sheep in particular were all meat exports.

One example we saw from Tom that showed us how his animals are treated and have the ability to live a good lives was when he showed up an injured lamb he found in the fields he walks every morning. Tom and his brother were nursing him and two other injured lambs back to health instead of just letting them die. This is not traditionally the same reaction in the United States as the government has more relaxed farming laws allowing animals to not get treated the same way. From what I have seen so far in Ireland, It’s easy to conclude that animals are treated much better than we currently see in the United States.

Eco Friendly Village?

While traveling around Ireland, I took interest into the dynamic of the Eco-Village and how their community worked. The first place we stopped while in Ireland was Cloughjordan. What was interesting about this village was the construction of the eco village and its relive location towards the center of the Cloughjordan. This eco village could have been located outside Cloughjordans main strip, but even though it was created well long after the village of Cloughjordan was founded it looks like it belonged there. Some interesting things I learned while staying at the eco village is that there is no one in charge of the village and that everybody their makes joint decisions. Mary, one of the residents, told us, “You learn love and hate everyone here”. That really stuck with me because in a community where everyone makes decisions instead of just one person being in charge things tend to get done slower. This was something I noticed about this community as they claim to be self-sustainable; however, they have not been able to use their solar panels they as a community purchased due to technical problems dating back 10 years. This is something I thought was interesting because that meant they got their electricity from somewhere else even though their motto is that they are:

  • Building
  • Sustainable
  • Community

When looking at their motto I found that their vision wasn’t being 100% achieved due to relying on outside energy. One thing I picked up on about the community is that everyone was there for a specific reason, and that was that they wanted to reduce their carbon footprint on the environment. This is something I saw throughout the village as they as a community tried to reduce waste, farm their own food, and reduced water usage. Seeing a community that truly believes that as a whole they could help make a difference was inspirational. While staying in the hostel, we came across apple juice that was for sale and asked about it. Pa, the owner of the hostel we stayed at, told us that they are sold by a member of the community and could also be bought up at the store ran by the hostel’s cook, Johanna and their husband. I thought it was interesting finding out that they tried to shop locally for their food unlike in America where majority of people shop at the supermarket. Overall I believe that if the eco-village wants to grow they need to fix their solar power issue to be fully self sustainable and work towards electing someone to make decisions for the community.

 

Ecohouse

Powering Ireland

Ireland is an interesting place when you look at the way they consume and create their energy. In America the main source of energy is oil and natural gas which are also burned to create electricity. This is something that so far from what we have seen in rural Ireland is not regarded as the same way to keep a home warm. Turf is a popular source of energy because it is virtually everywhere in Ireland. Turf is harvested from bog lands, which over the course of history compresses and creates a carbon based product that can be burned for energy. This is not a very environmentally practice, as doing so releases carbon back into the atmosphere, which is not good for our o-zone or life on Earth. Ireland, stores about 3% of the world’s carbon. Preserving these fields are in our best interest because when carbon is burned it releases a toxin call Carbon Monoxide. Turf farming isn’t a large scale problem created by farmers in the countryside burning it for personal use on their property, the problem is the large corporations that come into Ireland and buy up land to farm the turf from the bog all at once. A farmer in Ireland traditionally uses around 3-4 turf bricks every 15 minutes when trying to keep the fire going. This doesn’t seem like a lot but when you multiply that by the hour they use 384 slabs an hour and 140,000 a year. This seems like a lot but that is if they keep the fire constantly lit throughout the whole entire year, which is not true for everyone in Ireland. Turf farming is a cheap way to heat homes in Ireland and with trees not being abundant on the island, residents do not have many other viable options to use to heat their homes. Traditional farmers using this source of fuel will never be able to clear a field in their lifetime, but corporations can tear up a 50 meters by 35 meters field in under a day according to our friends in the Killary sheep farm.  This practice has pushed Ireland to try and push back on corporations having the ability to harvest turf from bogs. One type of clean sustainable energy  that can be seen as an alternative is wind turbines, in specific we saw the models known as kw3 and kw6’s.  The smaller model, the kw3, gives out an average of 4,000kW/hrs while the larger size the kw6 gives out around 8,000kW/hrs. This is the greenest way to create energy because winds is natural and abundant in Ireland and the creation and use of these devices are not harming the environment while turf farming is. Most of the turbines we saw were along the Wild Atlantic Way but they were also seen  inlet from the coast. These are great examples of clean energy because they have a low carbon footprint which is great for the environment and allows people to realize there are alternatives to traditional practices still being used today.

Sheep Haven

Killary Sheep Farm
Lambs

Tom grips the scissors tightly in his right hand while he strongholds a sheep in his left.  He makes quick decisive cuts while shearing the long sheep wool. By the end, free of the heavy wool, which sits in a large pile, the sheep looks half its original size. Now the sheep will be able to be cool for the summer and slowly grow back its wool, until next year, when it will be sheared again. I am astonished the sheep did not get hurt once. Even as Tom allowed volunteers who had no experience shearing a sheep before cut some of the sheep’s wool, the sheep is free from even the tiniest of scratches. The scissors never once touched the sheep’s skin.

At home, I own three sheep. Each spring my sheep also get sheared, however the technique used by the shearer is not as kind. Instead of scissors, the common practice in the U.S. for sheep shearing, is to use an electric razor.

As Tom leads us on our tour around his luxurious sheep farm in Killary, Ireland, I scramble to catch up with him. Once I catch up to him I tell him about how my own sheep are sheared with a razor, not scissors. Due to this, I explain, my sheep often get nicked and develop open wounds that are prone to infection.

Tom sputters. “That is just plain cruel!” he exclaims, speechless. “You need to find another shearer this instant!” From his face, I can tell that Tom is visibly upset about how my sheep are sheared. I explain to him that shearers in Maine, where I am from, are rare to find and all that we have employed have used the same method of shaving. Before coming to his sheep farm, I hadn’t even known there was an alternative.

As Tom and I discuss his sheep and my sheep, I take a moment to take in the scenery around us. The sun is shining and there is not a cloud in the sky. We are surrounded by a five hundred acre sheep farm, filled with luscious green grass for the sheep to graze and set next to the water, which offers a cool breeze on this warmer than normal June day. It is a sheep’s paradise.

“I used to name the sheep,” Tom tells me, “but now there is just too many, I can’t keep up.” The fact that he cares enough to name his sheep proves the level of care he gives his sheep – a level  most large sheep farmers in the U.S. do not. Tom provides the sheep with a habitat now close to extinction in the U.S. Most sheep in the states that are bred for meat are kept in pastures that don’t even pass F.D.A. standards. Tom has created a haven for the sheep to live in. Two lambs skip behind us, bleating excessively.

“They think I’m their parent” Tom explains, “Their mother died during birth, so I had to feed and raised them myself.” In the U.S., it would be rare to find a farmer willing to put the time and effort into raising two lambs on their own. It is more likely, had those two lambs been born in the states, neither would have made it past a week. I am hopeful that before more animals lives are negatively impacted that the U.S. will begin to mimic a model similar to Tom’s sheep farm for raising animals.

 

Kindness of the Eco-Village

When I first arrived in the eco-village in Cloughjordan, County Tipperary, I was not sure what to expect, what even was an eco-village? At first it looked like an ordinary town, small stores, colorful bright houses, and pubs, but as I got a closer look around the town I began to understand what an eco-village actually was. A place where people come together and live their life in an environmental friendly way. People come from many different places in order to live there, and those living in the eco-village follow a mission statement, “if we do not do the impossible, we shall do the unthinkable.” In other words, if we do things together it is possible to build a livable, safe and fun community. Since everyone living in the eco-village has similar morals, values and beliefs they get along very well with each other and lean on each other when in need. It is really important for the eco-village to be in a community within a town because it shows that people can be eco friendly in a way that does not leave you secluded from the rest of civilization. While I was staying in the eco-village I met a young woman black haired women named Johanna, her home was currently being built in the eco-village and during this time she was living in small hut with her husband and two small children. Johanna was an amazing chef but due to her living conditions she did not have a kitchen. The hostel in the eco-village allowed her to use their community kitchen to cook whenever she wanted as long as in return she occasionally cooked for guests. Johana made my classmate’s lunch and dessert occasionally and it was always amazing. She picked fresh fruits and vegetables using the community farm which was set up in August 2008. This farm is over 40 acres outside Cloughjordan and 12 acres in the eco-village. For a small fee of 64 euros a month, families are able to go to the farm and pick from a wide range of vegetables and use them for their meals. During the evenings, many people who live in the eco-village come together at a local pub and sing along to traditional Irish music. The pubs and bars in Ireland are very different from the bars in the United States. In Ireland, the pubs are full of a wide age range of people who sing and play a wide range of instruments such as the fiddle, flute, pennywhistle, and bodhrán. After a long day at work locals are able to come together, talk to each other and sing along to traditional Irish music.

Shelby’s Gallery

No Matter the Cost

“Hello,” “Good morning,” “You alright?” What is going on here? Why are these random people greeting me everywhere that I go? Where I am from, if I look at someone while near them on the street I will get a dirty look or an angry remark. As I walk down the stone path streets of Cloughjordan I am able to further my understanding of the community that everyone around the village built. When you get to villages like this, the population starts to dwindle tremendously compared to the larger cities, everyone knows everyone. There is a sense of belonging in each place I visited, and every community member knows if you are actually a part of the community or not. Residents do things for each other even if it requires some personal sacrifices. While exploring the area, in the eco-village, I spoke with a local bartender about life in the small village. Cloughjordan is a special example because of how small the village is, but the bartender said something that stuck with me: “If I closed down shop tomorrow and started collecting unemployment, I would earn more money per week than if I ran this pub.” I responded, “Then what is stopping you from doing something like that?” He replied, “I could not leave an occupation like this where I am able to be paid to see everyone in the village that I have grown up with and am close to, it gives me a sense of meaning.” He seemed so passionate as he spoke, he has been dealing with these hardships for nearly twenty years, but even with all of that he loves every second of it. To struggle for the sake of having a happy life is not an easy choice to make, but to that bartender it was the best choice he ever made.