Every evening as the sun sets in Njambini, a small town in Kinangop, Nyandarua County, sending resident’s to their homes for the night, Emily Ndirangu’s day begins.
The 24-year-old normally works late into the evening to weave woollen mats and carpets.
Seated on a small stool, Emily picks a ball of wool from a 90kg sack, spins it into long threads on a manually operated wooden wheel before she later turns them into carpets and mats.
She is a member of Njambini Wool Crafters, a branch of Kinangop Farmers’ Cooperative. The centre has provided a ready market for wool from farmers who keep mainly corriedale sheep.
They buy the balls of wool from farmers in Kinangop sub-county at Sh150 a kilo.
Through the group, comprising of 35 members, they weave a variety of attractive floor mats and even clothes, some that they export to Britain with the help of environmentalists.
Once a sheep has been sheared, its wool is washed and sun-dried after which it is sent to the crafting centre.
Kinangop is cold throughout the year making it a suitable environment for rearing wool producing sheep breeds like merino and corriedale.
However, farmers prefer corriedale over merino because the former is a dual-purpose sheep-producing both mutton and wool.
“Once the wool is spun into threads, we weave it into carpets, scarfs and mats among other items,” says Emily.
She works with other five employees to produce the items.
“Weaving is a labourious exercise, thus, working as a team makes it lighter. As one clasps the wool to make it finer, the next person spins it into threads while the rest weave.”
The wool can be dyed into different colours to make a variety of items.
James Maina, a sheep farmer, recounts; “My father had about 200 sheep but used to give away wool after shearing because there was no market. Some farmers even burnt the produce. A kilo of wool retailed at Sh10 by then.”
One gets up to 2kg of wool per sheep, with the shaving being done twice a year.
Maina, a member of the group who is in-charge of collecting wool from other farmers, further sells sheep at between Sh10,000 and Sh15,000.
“The value addition has come as a blessing to us sheep farmers. A group of environmental conservationists came up with the project to save a bird known as Sharpe’s long-claw, and revive sheep farming for wool,” says Maina, who has 20 animals.
Sheep rearing, according to the group of environmentalists led by Dr Kariuki Ndang’ang’a of Birdlife International and Dominic Kamau of Kenya National Museum, would increase acreage under grassland for grazing, while also saving the habitat for the endangered Sharpe’s long-claw birds only found in Kinangop. And the idea has worked effectively.
The environmentalists started by giving a pedigree ram, which was to serve about 10 farmers in every village, so that they would have highly productive breeds.
Rearing sheep for wool and meat calls for proper management practices that include deworming at least after every two months. This gives them appetite for grazing, thus, they grow faster.
“When constructing a sheep pen, make sure it is raised some feet above the ground and there should be small spaces between the wooden bars used for floor construction to enable animal dropping to fall in the shed, thus, compromising the cleanliness of the flock’s wool,” explains Maina.
The sheep should also be sprayed fortnightly to curb ticks. When infested with ticks, sheep scratches itself damaging its hide and wool.
Joseph Okwaro, Kinangop sub county livestock production director, cautions sheep farmers against inbreeding, saying it leads to poor quality wool.
“Lambs from inbred flock are often smaller and less productive,” the livestock expert notes and advises farmers to serve their ewes with pedigree rams to improve the productivity of their flock.