A sheep’s fleece is 50% carbon, captured from the soil in the grass they eat. At the Hirsel, when we shear our sheep, we try to use every bit of the wool as possible: using the best to create products which will capture that carbon for years to come, and using discarded wool in the garden for mulching and composting, which returns the carbon to, and enriches, the soil it was taken from. When we eventually send a sheep to the abattoir, we honour that animal by wasting as little as possible: using their meat to feed our community, their skins to make rugs, and curing their horns for use in creative projects. Aiming for a closed circle, where as much of the carbon taken up from the grass by the sheep is locked into a product, or returned to the soil.
The Highland Wool Project (working title) is The Hirsel’s effort to utilize and promote the amazing, sustainable product that wool is. Starting with our own flock, we’ll be offering felted and sheepskin rugs, raw fleece, and washed/carded wool – all from our own flock of heritage breed Hebridean sheep. At the same time, we’re developing long-term plans to build partnerships with other Scottish shepherds, especially heritage breed flock owners, to create a project that will help take all of us into an environmentally and financially sustainable future.
We aim to make the Wool Project as ecologically friendly as possible, using and re-using water from the same spring, well, and rainwater catchment system that serves the rest of the farm. The system will eventually be adapted to allow us to use any discarded (and filtered to SEPA standards) water on our fields, and the discarded wool and VM will be added to our compost piles, to enrich our soils. We are also investigating ways to harvest renewable energy for our energy needs.
With these actions, in concert with our agroecological way of farming the land, we lower our waste, and our carbon footprint. And by building partnerships with other Scottish shepherds, we can help them lower their footprints by keeping the work close to home, here in the Highlands, while increasing earning potential for their farms at a time when other types of support appear to be thinning. At the same time, we’ll be helping to build pride in our shepherding heritage, building skills in our wool-based Scottish community, and adding jobs into our local Highland community.
At the moment, we’re adapting an re-purposed caravan as a temporary workshop – replacing domestic sinks with deep sinks for soaking and washing fleeces, and turning the bedrooms into drying rooms. But plans are in development to renovate and equip our 300 year old stone barn for the long term wool project – saving this precious building from demolition and giving it a new and useful function on the farm, and in our community.
We’ll be processing – and learning on – our own fleeces through the winter of 2021, while laying the foundations for launching the wider partnership. Get in touch with Donna (firstname.lastname@example.org), if you’d like to talk further about – or become involved with – the Highland Wool Project.