Sunday, 24 January 2010

Sheep and their dogs

Most of the farms on the Isle of Mull are stock farms. There is very little arable land. The type of land - from sea level up to rugged mountain top lends itself well to extensive mainly outdoor livestock farming. And any farmer with sheep (blackface or otherwise) will be tackling, on a daily basis, the same kind of activities as we do at this time of year - and more. There is always something needing to be done. Routine seasonal treatments. Routine checks out on the hill. Routine winter feeding.

Dog on tractor.

This week Farmer treated the rest of our hill ewes and when they were all done, he let them back to the hill.

A pen of hill ewes wait to go through the fank.

Once through the deer proof gate that divides the hill from the in-bye, they slowly and gradually make their way back to the part of the hill they are 'hefted' to. Some live at Crackaig, some on the Sitheans, others along the dramatic shore line - it depends where they were born or where their mothers were born. They have their routines too - one group of ewes, the ones who live on the Sitheans, they come every afternoon to the gate above the Treshnish steading to see if Farmer has opened the gate to let them in and graze the bit of grazing between the 'natural regen' woodland along side the farm track and the farmyard.

Tig and Cap watch what is going on in the fank.

These dogs do a lot of watching. The hole in the wall of the 'fank kennel' was made by Cap (pictured, right) last spring when he decided he didn't want to be left behind one day, and he tried to eat his way out. Thankfully we realised what he was up to before he succeeded.

Hoggs at the troughs in the Haunn field.

Spread out and grazing quietly in the open grassy field surrounding the Haunn cottages are the hoggs. Two jagged lines of troughs are laid out at random, enough for 140 mouths to eat at one time. The January sun has not yet risen above the hill and a cold shadowy air lingers. No wind blows and the sounds of the visually calm sea and its gentle waves crashing on the cliff ledges below the Point are surprisingly loud in the quiet of the still morning light.

At the first distant sound of the quad, the animals slowly and quietly begin to move. As the engine noise gets louder, one or two hungry hoggs start bleating and once the quad appears they begin to run from all corners of the field. By the time Farmer starts emptying last nights rain from the troughs, with todays bag of food on his shoulder, he is being gently mobbed. The dogs watch from the sidelines. The bag is opened, the feed is trailed into each trough, the cries are silenced as they eat - and as they finish, they slowly drift off and back into the far corners of the wide open field leaving the zig zag trough lines as deserted as they were before.

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