Sheep on the Estonian and Finnish islands in the Baltic sea
The traditional Baltic island sheep are not widely appreciated, although small-scale sheep keeping is a traditional activity for islanders and perfect for Natura/nature protection areas, where extensive farming is forbidden due to environmental considerations. Sheep in these regions are generally under utilized and not fully recognized as a valuable source of meat, wool and effective landscape maintainance. Typically, sheep farming is polarized; targeting either on meat or wool production whereby foreign or local meat/wool lamb breeds are preferred. It is not known that indigenous sheep breeds can also offer high quality wool of several shades and delicious meat, while requiring lower levels of care management.
Sheep farming has traditionally played a vital role for the Baltic Islands in preserving the rural landscape, providing meat and wool, offering local craftsmen and farmers a livelihood and contributing to cultural heritage. The geographical separation of these archipelagos causes unequal development prospects in comparison with mainland. On many smaller islands sheep are no longer raised. Due to weak links across the value chain, the sheep industry remains far from its potential: Saaremaa, once famous for its quality yarn, has no facilities today for spinning wool into yarn, Hiiumaa has no slaughter house and there is no lamb meat processing on either of those islands. Some farmers on Baltic islands transport their sheep live to other countries or to mainland for finishing and slaughter - a method not recommended in animal welfare regulations for the European Union.
The sheep industry on the Estonian and Finnish Baltic islands share many challenges due to similar conditions:
1. predominantly small scale farms with variable business interest
2. small local market,
3. small volume of product
4. low level of collaboration between farmers
5. low level of collaboration up and down the value chain,
6. difficulty in meeting the EU health regulations for mobile slaughtering facilities, small scale processing of meat/milk
7. difficulty in sourcing small-scale wool washing and other small scale wool (or skin) processing equipment. Without processing opportunities and effective marketing strategies, sheep farmers are not motivated to produce quality meat and wool.
For dealing with these issues efficiently it is worthwhile to cooperate and benefit from exchange of experiences plus allow for transfer of knowledge and knowhow between the islands and in the region as a whole. Studying the problems together can save money as well.
Please read about the KNOWSHEEP project and explore the information and activities that are on the website.