Taste Kilkenny – Episode 3: Discover Zwartbles And The Cat Shepherd
I was sent to Suzanna Crampton at Zwartbles Farm by Julie of Highland Orchard Farm during my first visit on my Taste Kilkenny tour. As previously mentioned, you simply cannot meet a Kilkenny food producer and not be sent to another.
I had heard of Zwartbles already as I had been following Suzanna’s twitter account for a few years. Although I was aware and interested in her fabulous blankets, I didn’t realise that she also farmed the Zwartbles sheeps for meat. As I have never been on a small meat farm in Ireland, I was excited to discover what ethical farming looks like. So I contacted Suzanna and asked would she have me for an hour or so and I was invited to meet her at the Zwartbles farm just outside Kilkenny the following morning. After my chat with Ed Langton around the Kilkenny Whiskey Guild, this is the last part of my Kilkenny adventures for now.
Upon arrival at the farm, I am greeted by 3 massively enthusiastic dogs and a warm hug from Suzanna. We go into the kitchen for a cup of coffee and a chat and I get to meet Ovenmitt, the friendliest cat there ever was. He’s only too happy to have a new person worshipping at his altar, while Suzanna talks to me about the life cycle of a sheep at zwartbles farm. Not only does she rears the sheeps zwartbles sheeps for their wonderful thick wool which is then woven into beautiful blankets but she also raises them for meat.
I’ve mentioned before, that as I get older I feel less of a need for meat and even less so for red meat. This is largely to do with the fact that I’ve grown confident enough in the kitchen that I regularly eat fish or simply but well prepared vegetables. So when I do eat meat, I like to try and buy happy meat as such. I love meat too much to ever give it up and my compromise to my conscience is to avoid battery meat and to know where it comes from and what kind of life it has had. This is why I jumped on the opportunity to visit this small sheep farm.
After we’ve finished our coffee and put the world somewhat to rights, Suzanna takes me to meet the famed Zwartbles sheeps to see what kind of lifestyle they have on the farm. They come running at us as they know they’re about to get fed. I had never really thought about sheeps having personalities, but these ones do. They are friendly, they are playful and the one on the top photo of this post loves a good scratch between her eyes.
The Zwartbleslambs enjoy between 9 and 11 months of the best living conditions. They are loved, they are fed, played with and well looked after. They are fed on mixed grasses and herbs for the duration of their life and their diet is finished with autumn clover and apples as these are in season towards the end of their lives. This gives their flesh a unique flavour. Having witnessed the wonderful conditions these lambs live in, I’ve no issues with adding myself on the waiting list to buy one next year. If you’re interested yourself you can contact Suzanna through her website.
The other fascinating thing at the farm is the Cat Shepherd. Bodacious is massive on twitter and his followers are dedicated cat lovers. If you’re into social media, the interaction on the account is absolutely amazing. Favourites, retweets, chats are making Suzanna’s phone hop constantly. I’ve never seen the likes before. Bodacious is a gorgeous, regal cat, who knows he is king of the farm and makes sure you know it too. He’s mad for raw eggs and has the sharpest claws I’ve ever felt. He is fiercely curious and you can see below he keeps a close eye on visitors. Here he is below, watching over me, as I pick a couple of postcards of him before I leave the farm.
In short, I strongly recommend that, if you want to learn about where your meat comes from and what ethical farming is, you should visit Suzanna at her farm. And if you do, please give her, Ovenmitt, Bodacious, the dogs and sheeps a whole lot of love from me.