Choongphel chiwog in Bumthang used to be a sheep rearing community. Not any more.

Farmers, who used to own flock of sheep, chose to rear cattle while the younger generations aren’t keen on keeping the practice going.

A sheep-rearing cooperative, which was formed to sustain the practice, has only six members in the chiwog. Of the nine households in Zhuray village in the chiwog, three are registered members. The remaining three is from Bim village. Together, the cooperative owns about 120 sheep.

Kuenzang Lhendup, a farmer from Zhuray had more than a dozen of sheep. “A bear ravaged my farm and killed a dozen in a night,” he said. The farmer said that during his parents’ time, the whole community survived on sheep.

“It is not lucrative anymore, I rear cattle instead and keep on moving with the cattle,” he said adding that he hardly stays in his ancestral home.

Dogs are another problem to the farmers and have become more aggressive in attacking the sheep, according to Sonam Lhamo, a member of the cooperative from Zhuray. “Many stray dogs roam the jungle in packs and attack the sheep.”

With the emergence of imported wool, which is easily available in the market, more people are interested in weaving materials out of imported wool.

Sonam Lhamo said the community harvests wool twice a year and the yield is about 25 kgs. After processing, roving and spinning the yarn, she said the woven piece would fetch about 20 rolls of yathra. A roll is enough to weave a cover for a sofa set, which is sold at Nu 2,500 each set. The same piece woven from imported wool costs Nu 1,200.

She hits the highway to sell the woven materials and the cooperative, she claims is not helpful in finding a market. With 28 sheep, Sonam Lhamo barely earns Nu 30,000 year.

She said that the cooperative was provided with some machines for roving, softening and spinning the yarn. “But when we have huge quantity, it doesn’t help,” she said. “We have to go all the way to Dungminthang to get the job done.”

The National Sheep Breeding Centre in Dungminthang, Bumthang, provides support to the cooperative to improve the breed. The centre has more than 500 sheep and is equipped with mechanised equipment.

While the sheep in the centre’s farm is also prone to wildlife threats, the support from the centre is helping farmers own a sheep or two and keeping the sheep rearing practice going.

Tshering Dorji