Sunday, 19 October 2014

Farming diary

Before we go away on Monday Farmer wanted to put the tups through the fank, and to check that they were all alight.  This tup had a problem with one of his horns which was blocking him from seeing out of an eye, growing as it was so close to his face.  



and finished. It must be such a relief when it is done.

The focus now is on the next season.  Have we got enough tups for the number of ewes we want, and are they the breed we want? Before we knew it we had embarked upon a new direction.   We were unable to go to the Tup Sale in Oban so we asked J to get 2 tups for us - one blackface, and the other.. the new direction.. is a Lleyn.  Here he is below.

The next day we went to look at a couple more tups, locally.  Came home having said we would buy 3!

The farm we went to to look was in the middle of speaning their calves (taking them away).  The cows were all quite unsettled, looking and mooing for their calves. 

This was the tup selection. 

One of 2 mighty bulls who needed to get the testosterone out of their system.

This cow was hollering for her calf. 

Tonight again we saw the aurora borealis.  It was quite wonderful but very windy so not easy for astrophotography. 

Monday, 13 October 2014

Stalking with a difference

This flock of Jackdaws flew over the fields in front of the house today.  Daughter heard them and it reminded her of visiting friends on the east coast of Scotland, surrounded by woodland and arable land.  It is quite an unusual sight for us, and amazing to see them with a buzzard.

As it was such a beautiful day, I just had to go out with Farmer when he went to check the hill sheep. He was looking, in particular, for a tup lamb that J had picked out, at marking time, as looking promising as a future tup for breeding.  But since then, somehow, he has gone missing.   The reduction in daylight hours is the trigger for ewes to come into season, but it suits our climate if we keep the tups separate from the ewes until mid to end November. So the last thing we want at this time of year is a handsome young male on the loose amongst the ewes!

We didn't find him. But we found something else very exciting.  But remembering the amazing experience we had last summer watching the stags during the rut, we set out to walk up to the top of Ben Duill, and as we got higher we heard a guttural roar of the stag.  Farmer made the dogs sit, whilst he and I crept up towards where the roar came from.

We could smell him.  An earthy musky muddy smell.  We could hear him.  Crawling up behind a rocky outcrop, suddenly there he stood. With hinds and calves in between us and him.  Probably about 15 metres away from us.

The hinds were quicker to react than he was.  

It was a totally magical experience!  This is almost exactly the same spot we were in last year, watching the rut, overlooking the ruins of Achnacoille.   It is almost a bowl, the hillside, and we could see several different groups.  The views to Iona, the Ross of Mull and the Paps of Jura beyond were stunning too, as well as down Loch Tuath to Ulva Ferry with Ben More behind. 

Farmer went off in continued search for the missing tup lamb and I walked home above the deer fence. I came across another group on the skyline and could see another lot further away still.

This ruined building, probably a shieling, was hidden by bracken until last year when we aerially sprayed parts of the hill.   Tommy, who used to work here, had told us there was a whisky still up in this area of the hill, so sometimes we wonder if this was the ruin of the still.

It was an epic afternoon.  The beautiful views took in the islands of Rum, Skye, Barra, Mingulay, South Uist, Canna, Eigg, Muck, Iona,  the Treshnish Isles, Staffa, Gometra, Ulva and Jura.

Friday, 10 October 2014

In the moonlight with an owl.

We had a BBQ last night. Farmer cooked up some Treshnish fare, and we sat outside eating in the dark with the moon rising from the east and the spectral colours of the dying light falling over the horizon.  It was a wonderful end to our working day.  You have to take the chances while you can. As we sat outside I could see through the silhouettes of the trees an owl flying round looking as if it were about to settle to roost.  Clearly we were putting it off, sitting round the BBQ with candles burning and dogs rushing about.

At bedtime the moon was still so strong and the air so clear, I went a wander with my camera.

The air was so still, and silent. Not a breath of wind. I could hear the waves gently caressing the shoreline below. I could hear stags roaring on the hills behind Ensay, and up here at Treshnish. Apart from that it is so very quiet.

One of the things I really enjoy about the moonlight is the way it intensifies the colours of objects and I wanted to see if I could capture some of the autumn colours so I stood in the veg garden thinking about what I could do, I was in the shadow of the lamb shelter which borders the garden.  Not moving, just listening and feeling that quietness.   The moon was so bright I did not need a torch.  And all the lights in the cottages were off. It was just me out there.  Apart from the heron which shrieked down near the sea, it was just so quiet.  

And then hovering over my head, literally only a few feet away, was an owl.  Hovering.  Looking at me. Silently.  I could not hear the air pass its wings, it was totally silent, but it was also so close.  Looking at me.  I was frozen to the spot.  Part of me longed to grab the camera and catch it on 'film', but the rest of me knew I would frighten it away.  So I stood still and inwardly said hello.  It stayed with me for what felt like a few minutes, and then it slowly and silently flew away.   A totally magical encounter, which moved me almost to tears.

We think it is probably a barn owl that we hear screeching in the night. This owl was very white as it hovered so close.  The screeching we have been hearing recently and the close encounter last night makes me inclined to think it was a barn owl.  It was too light for a tawny owl and didn't fly like a short eared owl.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

The Oban Cattle Sale.

The Oban Cattle Sale today. I decided to leave the mountain of paperwork in the office and go with Farmer to market as we haven't taken calves to this sale for quite a long time.

The drive to the 10.55 ferry was beautiful.  As we were in good time, we stopped a few times along the way.

We were quite surprised to see cyclists appearing through the mist!

In Craignure we had time for coffee and bacon rolls for breakfast from the Award Winning Arlene's Coffee Shop.  We sat on the sea wall in the sun as the ferry came in.  There were quite a few farmers with livestock trailers in the queue.  The crossing was perfect.

We arrived at the mart and queued up with the rest of them to unload the calves.  We were selling 7 in total.  There were about 900 calves put through the market today, so the car park was overflowing and the pens were all full!  Some calves were allotted passageways as the pens were all taken.

I did wonder if I should try and explain exactly what happens when you sell calves through  the market.  It is a huge amount of work from the market staff to make sure each animal is legally recorded correctly and goes to the right place at the end of the day, with the right paperwork.

Legally the calf needs 2 ear tags.  The ear tags need to match their passport.  Legally they must travel with their passport.

When you arrive at the mart, you are allotted your pens.  Then someone comes along with a pile of stickers, each with a different number and one is glued on each calf's back.  This is easier to read than the ear tags and will identify the animal in the ring, and when it gets to where it is going.  

A record is taken off the ear tag/passport/item numbers so that they all match the identity of the one single animal.  (If the cattle sale has 900 beasts for sale this will be repeated 900 times by the market staff).

From the pen, a note is made of the label number as the animal goes into the ring.  The passports are taken to the office.

The 'lot' whether it is one single animal or several will be weighed before it goes into the pen.  The numbers are written down and given to the auctioneer's assistant.

The calf/calves go in to the ring.  The auctioneer does his bit, and the sale is agreed.

The amount is recorded.  The weight of the animals is recorded.  The buyer is recorded and when the animal leaves the ring it is taken to the buyers pens.  The seller is handed a ticket which records the type of animal sold (i.e. bullocks or heifers), the number of animals in each lot, the buyer, the weight, the price and the pen number it is moved to after the sale.

During each item/lot sale, the auctioneer is not only calling the bids and looking round the ring to see if there are further offers, but he is watching how the animals in the ring are behaving, whether they are acting distressed or being aggressive, and mid bidding he will suddenly say 'Open Up' - open up the gate out of the ring and let that animal go, before anything happens.

There were one or two animals that I watched being sold, were that happened - usually when they were being sold singly.

With green paper ticket in hand, the seller can go to the office and collect their cheque.  This was a little complicated for us today as the printer wasn't working when we went in, so ours is being posted to us!  They ask whether you want some cash from the sale, and the amount you get is recorded in a wee book on the desk, and deducted from your cheque.

We were very pleased with our prices today, and with the weights of the calves we sold.  We cannot weigh them at home so it is only when they go through the ring that you can see how well they have grown.  The heifer Farmer was most pleased with, in the photograph above, weighed 406kg, and she was only born in February.  That is quite a size.   And she fetched a really good price!

What with the Mull Rally traffic and the market traffic we were unable to get onto the 4pm ferry, so had to wait until the 6pm ferry.  This gave us a chance to have a wander in the sun. There were lots of fishing boats tied up, several from Barra (CB - Castlebay) and one registered RX, which I had to look up when we got home - RX is Rye in Sussex. (a long way from home then).

As we were waiting for the ferry back to Mull, the Lismore ferry was loading up and on board were the 3 bullocks we sold  on their way to a new home on the Isle of Lismore.

Driving from Craignure to Salen, the sunset was beautiful but it must have been spectacular at Treshnish!

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