Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Another sale, another aurora

Already a week since the last blogpost and 2 weeks since the Mull schools went back.  Time flies! 

Farmer got his lambs to market last week. Prices were back on the year before, and given the extra costs (due to the weather) last winter, it wasn't a very rosy picture. But we cannot do much about it.  You cannot bring the lambs home without incurring a 21 day standstill, which means you cannot sell any other livestock. It costs to bring them home, and the next sale you go to would be just as much of a lottery as the last one.  


Farmer also took a load of lambs to market yesterday, and the prices were better. They are still back on what he got for his best blackface lambs last year, but better than last week. 


This year we are not selling the spare ewe lambs, as the way we receive our subsidy has changed and we now need to keep our own home bred ewe lambs in order to show we are not slipper farmers! 

In the veg garden, the garlic is harvested and drying nicely in the window.  


On the Sitheans the heather is slow to come out. I suppose it just hasnt been as warm this year, but it is finally appearing and it is a welcome sight. 



September has come and with it some wonderful cloudy skies.  This is looking down the Sound of Mull towards Lochaline from near Aros Bridge. 


And this morning the sun was shining on the Argyll mountains beyond the Isle of Lismore from Craignure.


Tuesday, 25 August 2015

To market, to market

Market day today.  Every Tuesday for the next couple of months, there is a sale in Oban at the Livestock Centre about a mile out of Oban on the road towards Kilmartin.  It is an elephant of a building filled with echoing pens and on market day, it is transformed from the silent hulk it becomes between markets, into a busy hub of thousands of animals, dozens of men and a similar number of vehicles.  

Imagine looking down, if you could, early this morning, from space and seeing across Argyll.  You would see in isolated remote glens and villages, farmers and crofters loading up their lambs into livestock trailers and lorries, scrabbling about for the paperwork to keep it legal, putting on their 'market best' jacket and off down the track to the ferry or along the mainroad to Oban.  They all converge here.   Huge livestock lorries 'and drag' (trailer) head up from the central belt and beyond, some from as far as Yorkshire.  The 'dealers' arrive in their own vehicles, possibly more comfortable than the cab of a lorry. 


Our lamb sale preparations start early.  Booking a place on the right ferries is one thing.  Booking pens in the market is next.  Preparing for gathering, arranging helpers (J from Dervaig this time) and watching the weather.   You want your lambs to look their best.  If it is wet when you are sorting them, they will pick up muck and dirt from the yard and the fank, and not look as clean and fresh as you would like.  

Sunday's sort out had gone well, and Farmer had left the lambs he wanted to sell in a paddock by the farm building.  Their mothers rather treacherously had stopped hanging around the fence lines and moved off to quietly graze further afield. 


Last night, Farmer gathered them into the fank, to recount them before putting them into the cattle shed over night.  Thank goodness he did as in the middle of the night it rained heavily. 



The lambs huddle quite close together, almost in a swarm, with no single lamb wanting to be the decisive one, but they are soon in the pens, and Farmer can count them through.




Cap had this job well under control.


With the shed doors safely closed up and the trailer parked ready for the morning, we walk back down to the house. The verges beside the track look beautiful in the evening light.


Common Hogweed.


Devil's bit scabious catching the light.


Aphid attacked hogweed drooping.


And another wonderful sunset..


Farmer is on his way to market as I write.  Along with dozens of other farmers and crofters from the island and mainland Argyll.  Motorised ants heading up the road to Oban! 

Prices are a lottery. There is no way of telling what we might get for our fine looking lambs, even though I say so myself. 




Monday, 24 August 2015

Its speaning time again

Farmer had J from Dervaig coming to help in the fank today.  Really heavy rain woke us in the night, and early morning, which meant that the heat of the day was quite a surprise when we went outside.  There was a strong warm wind blowing all day which made me think of a Mediterranean mistral.

There is a Cheviot lamb sale in Oban on Tuesday and he is aiming to get a trailer load of wedders (male lambs) over on the 10.55am ferry, all being well.  Taking the lambs off their mothers is called 'speaning', and it is always noisy.


To start with, Farmer gathered the field in front of the house, and brought the ewes and lambs up through the triangle gate and across the track into the fank yard.




Then into a smaller pen.  Once the gates were closed and they realised they were not moving, a frantic searching started, as ewes tried to find their lambs and lambs tried to find their mothers.  Lots of noise of plaintive baaing, and a slow flow of entwining animals as they circle the pen, sniffing the face of each lamb or ewe as they passed, in the search for their mother or lamb. 




This year the effects of the new CAP reform will make a difference in our lamb selection for sale. Usually we keep enough ewe lambs (hoggs) for our own breeding purposes and sell the rest. However with the new CAP rules, initially based on our land classification (most of Treshnish is classed as rough!) we will be paid a premium on each ewe lamb we keep over the winter.



So this year, in the fank, Farmer is looking at the 'spare' ewe lambs (which in previous years we would have sold) and will be keeping enough to fulfil his subsidy requirements.  The number you can keep is based on how large your acreage, so there is a limit and for us it is about 150 I think. This measure is to try and cut out the 'slipper farmer', as they must be your own home bred lambs.  You cannot buy ewe lambs from elsewhere and claim on them.  This in turn affects whether or not he gets rid of some of the old (Cheviot) ewes as we do not want to end up with more sheep than we normally have on the farm.


The day continued to stay windy, balmy and bright - really wonderful to feel the heat we have missed out on this summer!  The temperature at 3.30 in the afternoon was 26C!


Lenticular clouds over Calgary headland.


And a soft sunset disappearing under the clouds on the horizon.



Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Who's been eating the angelica?


Lovely late afternoon early evening walk through the Haunn field, the Coronation Meadow.  Knowing that Farmer needed to get the cows in here, yet loathe to stop meandering through patches of Tufted vetch and discovering freshly flowering Sneezeworts.





However the time had to come to let the cows in... Farmer opened the gate, and in they literally cantered.   This is the field they seem to love the best. The first thing most of them did was demolish the statuesque heads of the wild Angelica.  It makes a very satisfying crunch in a cow's mouth you know.   It must smell so sweet to them, as they made a beeline for it. 



Once they had settled in we headed out to the sea field, to look at the Grass of Parnassus.  We were not disappointed, there were hundreds of them, as well as Common spotted orchids still flowering and Devils bit Scabious coming out.





In the woodland near the Old Schoolhouse, there were 2 stalks of Devils bit scabious with that slightly malformed look to them, the stems are flatter and thicker, and they have a profusion of flower heads.  I can't remember what it is called. Very beautiful to photograph.


The sky was unbelievably blue.


I walked the dog down by the boathouse, and found more of these beauties.




Along the track to the cattle shed, there is plenty of Angelica and Common hogweed, safe from the hungry mouths of the cows.


As the sun was setting Farmer and J went to look at the heifers whilst I looked at the sunset. They stood talking until the sun had long gone, planning gathering for the lamb sales - we start selling next week. 



After dark, a tell tale glow.  And a beautiful time lapse here - the photograph below was the test shot for it. 


A beautiful dawn and the first day of school.  Coco and I walked along the beach. It was actually warm - only 8am but the sun was warm!


It was interesting to see the cows settled in the Coronation meadow and how they seemed to be enjoying the rougher damper parts of the field.  Perhaps we will go back tomorrow and find there are no Meadowsweet left...


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