Tuesday, 22 September 2009

A new flock of sheep

After the bird and flower friendly summer grazing regime (Holding back some fields for ground nesting birds, allowing flowers to set seed before cutting silage) the in-bye fields can be in need of some harder grazing to clean up the pasture which creates a better habitat for the huge diversity of wild flowers to flower again abundantly next year.

For this reason, a few years ago, we began keeping a small flock of 'cast ewes' over the winter on the fields. 'Cast ewes' are the older sheep who need a bit more comfort than they would get out on the hill. Usually they are sold off Isle of Mull hill farms onto 'softer' mainland farms where they graze turnips and raise their lambs in more sheltered fields. But some island farms keep them back and lamb them on their better ground as we have been doing.

Traditionally the winter grazing of sheep on arable and dairy field rotations is called 'the golden hoof' principle - they fertilise neatly as they go! But our gold hooved 'cast ewes' can be alot of work to look after as they are not so used to the fields and perhaps need more shelter than we can give them. So for their sake and for ours, we decided to start a new flock - so we will sell the older ewes through Oban Market and we have bought 40 Cheviot Hoggs from a neighbouring Farm and a Croft in Dervaig.

As we are still organic we had to get a Derogation from SOPA to enable us to buy non-organic breeding stock. (You have to have a good reason. In our case, we had looked for organic Cheviot Hoggs and couldn't find any, not even in a small number such as this.) And it has to be better buying local.

If you decide to come and stay in one of the cosy Treshnish and Haunn Cottages over the winter you may well encounter our new flock of sheep when out walking below the Treshnish holiday cottages, perhaps when looking for the resident otter along the rocky shoreline near the ruin of the 'old boathouse'.

Monday, 14 September 2009

The base is done...

Our next Renewable Energy project is to put up a 6 kW Proven turbine to harness the wind. This has finally moved off the back burner onto the hot plate - and here we go... We have been lucky to get SRDP funding and everything is in place now to get started.

Our site is above the Treshnish Farm Steading, in an elevated windy site, and indications are that we will generate a respectable amount of energy from this small scale project. We are lucky to be able to something positive that we personally believe in, through our business.

The base plate hole and the anchor hole were dug last week. Now they needed to be set with a special cement mix to secure the base plate and the anchor plate.

And today dawned dry if not too bright, and everyone was primed to be on hand to help. The turbine suppliers (jointly 'On Site Generation' from Edinburgh and 'Turbine Services' from Carlisle) were here to help the local team of Farmer and several experienced Helpers from Dervaig.

The first tracked dumper being unloaded - brought in from Dervaig.

The 2 ready mix lorries could only drive as far as the cattle shed. 2 local dumpers were going to carry the sloppy mix up to the site. This saved the human effort a back breaking amount of extra work.

The first dumper full of 'C35' concrete drives up from the cattle shed. The Isle of Coll in the distance.

The first lorry left and we waited for the second. From the turbine site we could see the road - and watched as the two lorries met on the corner towards Calgary and stopping for a chat. It was a lovely day and the view from the site is pretty amazing! We were watched at a distance by a pair of golden eagles at one point in the day.

The base plate suspended in the hole - recycled baler twine coming in useful again holding the grid mesh in place while the concrete was being poured in.

The seriously crucial thing is that the base plate stays level and in line with the anchor whilst the concrete is poured. It was a relief to us to have two guys here who has done this before! Some of the concrete was poured straight in, the rest was moved with our old digger bucket.

The digger bucket dropping concrete into the hole while the dumper pours as well.

There was a huge amount of human effort as well as the machinery but the job went well and much relief - a good job done! Now we must wait for the concrete to go off but Step one is finished. (SO exciting)

Thursday, 10 September 2009

This years lambs go.

It has been a beautiful day, fresh and warm, with wonderful blue skies at times and gentle soft autumn light softened by light spitty clouds. The fields around the steadings are full of sheep. Each field with a different group. Alot of bleating as the newly weaned ewe lambs are calling for their mothers and some mothers call back. Those with the strongest bonds walk each side of the fence. Most of them, though, concentrate on fresh grass and learning the new flock order.

At certain times of the sheep year, strange things happen (!) - sheep change name and become something other than what they were.

When the main draw of lambs are sold, for example, as ours were this week, the ewe lambs we keep back for breeding stop being lambs and become Hoggs as soon as those lambs are sold.

When these Hoggs are first shorn at just over a year old they become Gimmers.

The Gimmers then become Ewes after they have had their first lambs.

It gets more complex with the Tups (males), and half the time I m not sure who is who is what. (A Tup is what the English call a Ram) And they can be Wedders, Shearlings, a 1 Shear, 2 Shear and so on.

Tonight, with our lambs sold, the field of ewe lambs is now a field of Hoggs. And very noisy some of them.

During the first 5 months of their lives the Hoggs have instinctively learnt the lie of the land from their mothers out on the hill. This means that they are 'hefted' to Treshnish.

Hefting is the knowledge and sense of the place where the animals are born. They learn from their mothers where to find water, shelter, shade, the sweetest grazings. And when they return to the hill next spring they will make use of that knowledge and a year on will pass on the same knowledge to their own lambs. (You could not easily introduce 'foreign' sheep to an open hill like this - with 4 miles of dramatic unfenced coastline and lots of cliff edges, unhefted sheep would not know how to get around, and gathering would be a nightmare).

But for now the Hoggs will stay together for the rest of the year until the spring. They will be taught how to 'feed'. Eating delicious supplementary food (such as 'sheep nuts' or hay) does not come naturally to sheep and so it is necessary to teach them so that in later life if you bring them in for lambing you can supplement their diet accordingly.

The ewes go back to the hill now and will recover their body condition before the winter now that their lambs are not taking milk from them any more.

The next time the ewes will come through the fank is when they come into the in-bye fields to meet the Tups.

It is now dark outside - the evening is quiet. Lights shining warmly from the Treshnish holiday cottage windows, scent of woodsmoke in the air. Bleating and baa-ing from the fields beginning to quieten down. Mixed feelings seeing the lambs go but excitement too as a new season begins.

Monday, 7 September 2009

A late brood and a late night.

Montbretia flowering against the wall providing shelter and pecking ground for the hens.

Another surprise this morning as one of the Leghorns appeared with 11 fluffy little chicks.

The rest of the hens came up to check them out and the mother clucked on protectively if anyone came too close.

So out came the broody coop and run again and the coffee grinder to grind food for the chicks. They are now safely in the coop and run, and at least are safe from any scavenging Mink or Sparrowhawk and any autumn gales we may get.

I've lost count of how many broods have hatched this year. It is a bit late in the year for chicks to hatch but hopefully we can help the hen to look after them and they will be okay!

This last week since the English school holidays have ended, the self catering holiday cottages here on Treshnish Farm have had younger families staying and several times I have looked out to see young children enjoying feeding the hens and admiring Ruben and Apricot the two remaining Call drakes.

Seafood Night, Dervaig Village Hall.

Here is a very bad photo of a very good Seafood Platter!

It was the annual Dervaig Seafood Night last Saturday organised by Dervaig Village Hall. This event started 10 years ago - to celebrate fantastic local shellfish and has become a great annual happening - this year a few other events have been set up as part of a small but very popular Mull and Iona Food Festival.

About 80 people ( both locals and visitors) sat down to a seafood fest with live music and lots of good craic. It was a fundraiser for the village hall and RNLI. A late night by the time the washing up was all done. If you are sorry you missed this, check out www.wildisles.co.uk for listings of other island events - such as Producers Markets, Wild Isles Week.

Friday, 4 September 2009

Preparing for Lamb Sales

A ewe and her lambs with the Haunn self catering cottages below.

Cap: our top working dog.

Now is the time that our spring born lambs are weaned. The female lambs (hoggs) are selected to keep for breeding. The surplus females and the male lambs (wedders) are sold as store lambs.

The curious thing is that many people visiting the Isle of Mull may not be aware of any of this happening and yet it is such an important part of the annual seasonal work of the farmer and crofter. Like getting the silage in ready for winter, selling the lambs and letting the ewes back to the hill to gain some condition before the sea winds burn off the autumn grasses in the late autumn storms.

Fanks (sheep handling pens) are not always visible from the road. Unless you happen upon farmers, crofters, helpers working their dogs with flocks of sheep and lambs on the move, you may have no idea this is going on.

Our fank is fairly new, up beside the cattle shed and at a short distance from the Treshnish and Haunn Cottages, it replaced the old wooden one that was situated where the woodchip boiler now stands. Originally they would have been made of stone, and you can see disused ones in a few roadside sites on the island - there's a beautiful one towards Gribun from Knock, and in June the foxgloves in the one in Glen Bellart is a stunning carpet of deep pink flowers!

The nearest sale ring is Oban Livestock Centre in Oban and alot of Mull farmers and crofters take their stock there. Alternatives are to go to Dalmally or Stirling. Or you can arrange a private sale.

Organic sales are few and far between, and if we put our organic lambs through a non-organic sale they lose their organic status. For the last few years we have sold our lambs direct to the same organic farmer on the east coast - this greatly reduces the stress for the animals as they don't have to go through the market process and we enjoy the continuity of dealing with the same person and having agreed a price before the lambs leave the farm.

This year all the lambs are being vaccinated as part of the compulsory Blue Tongue Vaccination Programme - before they leave the farm. And they must have double ear tags as well. All the numbers recorded and as they are organic they travel with a medicine record of what medicines they may have had prior to sale.

So the Treshnish gathering will take place early next week - followed by a long days work in the fank - checking, selecting, vaccinating and tagging our organic lambs.

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