Thursday, 26 November 2009

Carbon footprint and Status changes afoot.

In September we attended a Climate Change and Farming seminar hosted by Soil Association Scotland near Fort William. We came away with the thought that whilst we might have successfully reduced the size of our holiday cottages carbon footprint, with the recent installation of a wood-chip boiler and an ongoing installation of a wind turbine, it was time to look at the carbon footprint on the farm. We intend to address this over the course of the next few months. Watch this space to see how we get on.

This week on the farm we have altered direction a bit. We have - very sadly - given up our organic status. We spent a long time thinking this through (over the last couple of years) as organic status was a good way of reassuring people that we followed a recognisable standard. And now we don't have that, how can we impart the message that although we are not organic any more, we will still farm in an environmentally friendly way, with as much concern for the land and the welfare of our animals as before.

One of the main struggles of working within an organic system here at Treshnish was our inability to keep up with the spread of bracken. The Farmer has spent weeks, over the years, in spring and summer mechanically crushing and cutting bracken, wherever he could get his tractor, quad or Allen Scythe. Hours and hours of back breaking work rewarded in the areas he was able to reach, but beaten in areas where he was not. There are places that you cannot cut because you will destroy the wild flowers growing underneath, such as the small white orchids growing on the banks outside Toechtamhor cottage. For me these are a marker of how far the bracken has encroached. When we first discovered the small white orchid growing here 12 years ago, there was no bracken anywhere near it but now the bracken is threatening this species as well as the many fragrant and butterfly orchids growing in the same area.

In the long term, in order to help preserve the diversity of flora in these delicate areas of the farm we need to be free to adopt non organic methods, if necessary, as part of a bracken eradication strategy. There were other reasons too, such as finances (dripping tap springs to mind) but we wont go into those now and please take my word for it, it was not a decision we made lightly.

We have joined 'LEAF', which has a self auditing process, quite a lengthy one, which I aim to work through this winter, in order, hopefully, to be ready for an on farm inspection next spring. LEAF ('Linking Environment and Farming') is an organisation with an approach to the environment which is practical and rigorously monitored, encouraging farmers to improve their environmental impact and provides help in looking at the carbon footprint of your farming practice and this is something we feel strongly about.

So good and responsible farming practice will continue here - looking after our animals and the diverse habitats on the farm. We will continue with the 'Scottish Quality Beef and Lamb' membership which monitors livestock farming issues, such as animal welfare and traceability, whilst we work on becoming a LEAF farm.

I will report on how the audit is getting on over the winter!

Saturday, 21 November 2009

The tups are out, and so is the sun

Today, the tups went out. The ewes were gathered earlier in the week, during a break in the weather, and they are now in the fields near the Haunn Cottages, looking over towards the Treshnish Isles. They will eat off the surplus grass the cattle wont touch, and clean up the pasture for next years flowers.

Before the tups go out, they are put through the fank and painted with waxy paint we call raddle, so that they are easy to spot in at a distance.

Heavy rain showers followed by extraordinary sunlight which coloured the white paint on our house a full yellow in the dying light of the afternoon.

A short while later, holiday cottage guests arrived by taxi from Tobermory as they have not brought a car. Having dropped their belongings at the cottage, they immediately went for a walk, dusk fell, and they came back in the moonlight. Last week we had one night without any guests, the first night since March, without anyone else here! All the out of season visitors seem to have got alot out of the quietness of the island at this time of year and enjoyed the longer evenings cosy in their cottages.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Calves sold, hoggs learn to feed

This was the view from our window this morning. And the soft changing light, reminiscent of Jon Schueller skyscapes on and off throughout the day. Later on today, we watched a pair of golden eagles over Shian and Duill, two of our holiday cottages, as the sun was beginning to set, which was quite a magical sight. To say the least.

We had 8 organic Aberdeen Angus calves to sell this autumn and yesterday they were sold. The remaining 4 heifers are going to be replacement breeding stock when they are old enough. We are at a disadvantage only having a few to sell as 8 is not a full lorry load but this year we arranged with another organic farmer near Oban to sell to the same farm so we could share the lorry and this seemed to work well for everyone.

So the calves gone, it is time to get this years hoggs (female lambs) onto food. It came as a surprise to me when we first started farming sheep, that tucking in was not an automatic response when a trough of nice sweet smelling 'nuts' is placed in front of them. Far from it! It can be an up hill struggle! But after years of learning through our own mistakes the Farmer put out yards and yards of troughs into half of the cattle shed and a couple of bales of hay. It is the blackface hoggs' turn to go first. One or two get the hang of it fairly quickly, and then it is a question of copy cat until they have all learned that they can actually eat that stuff, not just stand on it - or worse. They all seemed very contented yesterday but they are a little skittish when the lights go out after Farmer checks them last thing at night.

And later on, one of this years new young cockerels enjoying the afternoon sunshine.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Bonfire Night

A still, clear night with a strong yellow moon lighting a shining path towards us across Calgary Bay as we drove to Dervaig for the village Bonfire. Puffs of misty cloud hang above the calm sea loch as dancing flames reach skyward. Silhouettes stand black against the flare and light - dark faceless figures dressed up for the cold. Fireworks reflecting their neon rainbow over the water. Sparklers. Soup and sausage rolls. I forgot to take my camera.

So instead of photographs of the sparklers writing poems in the dark, some sunshine taken late this afternoon instead.

Matt Baker's sculpture 'Seabone' at Treshnish, with Calgary headland and Rum in the background.

It was a truly beautiful afternoon with intense sun setting light. Lovely for the guests staying in the self catering cottages - out walking in this bright sunlight.
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