The Falklands ewe-turn: from sheep farming to tourism


STANLEY, Falkland Islands, Nov 30, 2019 (BSS/AFP) – Late in life, Tony
Heathman has sought out pastures new: the 70-year-old former sheep shearer
now spends his days driving tourists around the Falklands Islands.

If that sounds like an odd career switch, his story is typical on the
remote British archipelago, where tourism is an increasingly popular side
hustle for workers in the grueling livestock industry.

Heathman works for his 38-year-old daughter Nyree’s Estancia Tours in the
South Atlantic territory, having long ago handed over his farm to his other

“A lot of people will save up their leave and take days off to just drive
down here for a day when the big ships come in,” Heathman told AFP on a gusty
trip to Volunteer Point, a peninsula famous for the islands’ signature
species, the king penguin.

Driving tourists around one of the Falklands’ main attractions is
Heathman’s main job these days.

“It’s very lucrative. Some people just rely on it for extra cash,” he
says. “It’s a day out to meet people and exchange views on various subjects,
talk about life on the Falklands and worldwide — I enjoy it.”

Sheep farming nevertheless remains a traditional way of life for some
islanders — enduring despite a rapidly modernizing society and an exodus of
workers to the archipelago’s one town, Stanley.

– Grueling work –
There are 92 farms and some 500,000 sheep on the Falklands.

Goose Green farm on East Falkland island employs five sheep shearers and
as many “rouseys” — the women who shake out the freshly shorn wool. It is
grueling work.

“There’s a learner on the end, he’ll shear 160. The two boys in the
middle, they’ll shear 400 today; it depends on your ability,” Goose Green
farm manager Keith Alazia, 47, told AFP.

His five employees will work for around eight and a half days straight,
shearing 13,500 sheep between them — around 1,500 a day.

Then they’ll move on to another farm. They can earn almost one pound
sterling per sheep.

“People have sheared 25,000 in the Falklands in a five month season, so
that’s the best part of o25,000 in that time,” said Alazia.

But on a remote island chain with harsh weather where locals say you can
experience all four seasons within an hour, such strenuous work is not for
everyone. Neither is sheep farming.

“You have the real Falkland Islanders who still live on farms and are 90
years old and go out every day and gather sheep,” said Joanne Baigorri, a
credit officer at the islands’ only bank.

“But you have some of us who like to be in town with our comfort and
heating and internet and things like that.”

Life on the Falklands can be slow, to the extent that the recent opening
of a movie theater in the capital Stanley caused a stir.

There are no nightclubs and the internet is expensive and can be
frustratingly slow. Restaurants open for business at around 6:00 pm and often
stop taking orders by 8:30 pm.

– Safe place –

But that small town vibe has its plus side too: this is a place where
people don’t lock their homes or cars.

“I love living here. I have three children, this is such a safe place to
raise your children,” said Baigorri, 27, as she shopped in Stanley’s

It’s also a surprisingly cosmopolitan place.

Falkland Islanders proudly boast about 60 nationalities among a population
of just 3,400.

Ten percent are Chileans while there are also burgeoning communities of
Filipinos, Saint Helenians and even Zimbabwean deminers.

“I fell in love with the Falklands and fell in love with a local person,”
said Gabi McRae, a 31-year-old Chilean who works in quality control at the
Falkland Islands Meat Company.

Life can sometimes be difficult, though, as the weather can cause havoc
with air and boat travel.

Many internal flights are called off due to gusting winds and occasionally
the ship carrying food stocks runs into difficulties, from the weather or
Argentina, which continues to claim sovereignty despite Britain asserting its
authority since 1833.

“Sometimes you can find it hard to find things you actually need,” said

“For example, I might want to bake a cake and you’ve got no sugar and
there’s absolutely no sugar on the entire island.”