By @SimonCocking great interview with the always interesting Ed Harper, long time resident of Cape Clear. See more about the goats here and Ed’s campaigning work for West Cork here.

How long have you been on Cape?

37 years in July. I have been interested in goats since I was 7. Then, at 16, went to folk club at pub, they kept goats and sung, which are the two things I’ve loved ever since. I got to know goats as animals and grew to love them. I was then a teacher but I hoped to move out, get an acre of land and settle. Then we came to West Cork for holiday, went to Cape by chance, saw an ad as the place for sale. The ad was for a house with 5 acres, which  seemed like a lot for a holiday house, but we figured it might be worth seeing. 

We came to the island, asked to see a Mr O’Drisceoli, but the house we saw had 27 acres. It turned out we had seen the wrong Mr O’Drisceoli’s house (if you live in West Cork you’ll know this is a very easy mistake to make), but it was on the market at the same price.   All of a sudden our plans changed from keeping a few goats and retiring to farm later, we could do it now instead. It seemed like a better idea to go for it. We liked Ireland too because of the music.

How different is the way you farm now from when you came here in the 70’s?

Not very. The principle now, as then, is to work with the goats as they behave as wild animals. I have my land in two halves, 10 acres is about optimal for wandering wild goats. The leader takes the herd out in the morning and brings them back in the evening. Shelter is important for goats. You can do intensive goat farming, in sheds, not out doors. Or traditional out on the mountains, tethered, tougher lifestyle. If wet they get cold and die sooner, whereas if they can stay warm and dry they will live longer. When came here built it so that the goats can come inside in at night. This means we can check them. In the morning they are trained to be milked and fed in the milking parlour. This how we have done it since the beginning. The first winter there was no shelter, milking outside was pretty tough. Once we got the roof onto the goat house things got better.

What new tech has helped you?

1) With the goat farming?

The coming of computers made a big difference. In the beginning goats were not considered to be farm animals. So there was less bureaucracy and very few goat farmers back then, very few flocks. My first goats came from the UK, from pedigree breeds. There is more and more paperwork now, so getting it by email helps now. Almost everything can be done on line now. Though it does mean when we do it by paper we can keep a copy of it. The screen reader really helps too.

I first started with a Commodore, and then one with 20 meg hard drive, with DOS, easier to sort out the problems then, because there was less to fix. There have been screen readers for a long time, and accurate from very early on. When it went to Windows it all went back a bit, it took a while to evolve. I went for the cheaper one, WindowsBridge but Jaws, the more expensive one was better.

Every Apple has a screen reader and it comes built in, so it can be almost as cheap to just buy one, rather than get a pc and then pay for the add-on to get it with Microsoft. MS have it for word, but not for every program on the machine, which is a shame as it could be done.

We did have a talking thermometer for the goats. The one I had was from the US and it broke and we couldn’t get it replaced. Maybe you can get one from Amazon now! Tracking each animal could be good, as long as it is not too expensive. For me blindness is not the big disability, it’s the stiff back and dodgy ankle which are the big constraints. The guide dog is a great assistance too. Mostly our goats are pretty good, and the guide dog and the bell still work very well.

2) How you communicate and interact with the world?

If you are under retirement age you can apply for technology to help you to with work, which would enable you to get the screen reader. The government will help you – so this had made a massive difference for blind people wanting to work and develop their own businesses. It has made communications much more practical.

Also it’s great for the political side of things too. Great for communicating with people. With facebook you can set alerts to see if people are talking about things too. All of this has been really helpful.

I think I could get more use out of the iphone. The ability to dictate into the iphone to create messages and emails is very useful. Though telephone banking is tricky. Siri is getting better though, but less accurate than the dictation keyboard. On the updates it is being upgraded.

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What tech do you wish was invented / available already to help you on the farm?

In the future an automated all terrain self steering vehicle / wheel chair would be great. If you could get a drone to send out looking for the goats that would be great. If you could project your voice to the drone then that would be great because you can then bring them back home just by using the drone.

How soon / do you think it’s possible for Irish islands like Cape to become energy self sufficient?

Yes. Cape could and should do it. Problem is not the tech, nor the funding, it’s the politics. Have to persuade people on the mainland to fund it. It’s quite a subsistence economy. Whereas if we have broadband in enables other people to come and work here too. In the beginning we got a European technical grant to create a community controlled system on an island. Being on an island brought its own unique challenges. If you could can see more sea than land from your transmitter then you might get tidal reflections. It took a while to understand somethings, and why they were and weren’t working. It was one big experiment in many ways to run it on Hare, Sherkin and Cape. The challenges are often the people rather than the technology. Unexpected factors, not all of which we have come to understand so far.

Cape is flowing with energy. We were the first in the world to have a computer controller diesel and battery windmill system. They were only 35 kw machines, they were very good, but couldn’t cope with the speed of the wind being delivered. They could only use the power up to force 6. Whereas here we often get more than Force 6. The solution would be bigger ones, or more smaller ones in a few locations. At the time ESB pulled back saying there was no future in windturbines. Cape could potentially export power to the mainland.

The wind power was costing them energy to make it. The problem is still large power systems. It would be great if we reverted to much smaller power systems, small local ones. It will be great when we can break from this large power system. Cape would be great if it could become an example of local community generating and consuming it’s own power / energy. All on a much smaller micro system.

What else should we have asked you / or you’d like to add?

I have volunteers on the farm, to whom I teach what I know of goats and the world, feed and shelter them, in return for working with me.  I find them through wwoofireland.ie and helpex.com  This gives me the chance to advertise across the world.  The tourists who visit and buy our products are also advertised to through the net: facebook Cleire Goats page, and submissions on discover Ireland, plus the Cape Clear website.  Also ex-volunteers have a variety of clips on youtube.


If you would like to have your company featured in the Irish Tech News Business Showcase, get in contact with us at [email protected] or on Twitter: @SimonCocking

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