Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Out like a Lion

Amazing to think that the other afternoon, we spent happy hours down on the boathouse beach in the sun without coats, enjoying spring sunshine warmth on our backs, and listening out for oystercatchers.  Tonight, in sharp contrast, the wind is roaring round the chimneys and the wind turbine is doing very well.  This time we haven't had any snow - not yet anyway, though other parts of the island have -  our neighbour's hill was white this morning.

Driving past Calgary beach late this afternoon, the beach was deserted, turquoise waters calmly lapping the sands.  Further up the Bay towards Treshnish, foaming waters rippled and grew in to roughly undulating white flowing waves, breaking and pushing and churning, making a line of tidal knots between the two Points (Treshnish and Caliach).

Over the course of the evening, the wind blew up and we made sure doors were shut and large flat items were well secured.  (like the sheeting board for the new recycling shed which had been innocently left out in the yard, and would metamorphose into lethal weapons if the wind caught hold of them).

On a night like this, the cows will miss the shelter of the cattle shed.  They are on the hill above Toechtamhor.  Farmer takes feed up to them twice a day - on the 'good days', this gives them the best of both worlds as they are out in fresh air but also getting the supplementary feeding they still need because the grass hasn't started to grow yet.  But tonight, it is wild outside - though there will be areas to shelter and I imagine the calves will be nestling in close to keep warm.

The Recycling Shed?  Yes, we are hiding the wheelie bins in a shed.  Out of sight but definitely not out of mind.   We very much hope that our eco friendly guests will help us to improve on the increasing amounts recycled from the holiday cottages every year.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

The Hen Egg Dog Game

The Equinox passes and it is noticeably equal day, equal night now.  Feels like a big hurdle jumped.   Whatever the weather throws in our direction from now on, the increasing daylight hours are really exciting.  Signs of spring. Sheltered grass begins to shoot through the dead yellow winter hue.  Catkins drop from bare hazels and migrants begin to appear - birds and humans.   The roads on the island are busier, no longer can you 'know' you won't meet anyone between here and Calgary Beach.

How blue the waters of Calgary Bay can be, seen through the trees beyond the hen houses, even when it is still quite cold!   The free range hens are enjoying the longer days and beginning to lay a good supply of eggs, the surplus of which we hope to share with our guests.  However one or two are sneaking off and laying their eggs in the garden, hoping we won't notice.  Last year we had so many broody hens, we had more chicks than we could count.  

This year I am determined to outwit them and collect the day by day egg before it becomes part of a wily hen's carefully nurtured brood.   But there is another spanner in the scenario as Tig, the younger Beardie, shows great promise as 'Champion Egg Finder' - she has learned that she can squeeze through the flap on the hen house to collect her own eggs and on occasion has been seen trying to, invisibly, move across the grass with a fresh egg in her mouth, off to bury it out of sight for a rainy day.  

Farmer has been busy. The heavily pregnant ewes were slowly gathered by Farmer, Crofter and Contractor on Monday afternoon once the storm had died down, and they were put through the fank by Farmer and Crofter on Tuesday in sunshine and cold wind.  Important to treat them when the weather is good and they are dry, that way they avoid getting dirty going through the fank.  A good job done.   So they are back on the hill now, and before we know it the lambing will have started when Farmer will be out on the hill every day.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Mid March ravens, hares and school children

We had a visit today from 20 pupils (P6s and P7s) from a nearby primary school.   They are doing a  renewables project, so they came to look at both the wind turbine and the wood chip boiler.   It was great to have a chance to show them round.  We had arranged a wood chip delivery which gave us a chance to show off the electric sliding roof on the fuel store.  And now that the wind has remembered how to blow, the turbine was actually generating when they were here.   Lots of notebooks and pens, and an impressive amount of note taking!  And this being Mull and island education being so good, they were going to stop off at Calgary beach to eat their packed lunches on the way back to school.  What a life.

On the farm, life goes on - still a couple of cows to calve - considering we only have 12 cows, this has been a very slow calving period.  The gathering is planned for next week.   Spring cleaning cottages.  Last minute maintenance.   Farmer had to do a bit of ditching down by the old boathouse - just near this fantastic rock.

Spring equinox approaching in a few days.  Very low tides, and matching high tides.  Strong winds forecast.  The season is finally changing.  Hooded crows seem to be paired up everywhere you look.  Dozens of frogs playing that game of 'chicken' - frozen in my headlights driving home in the dark.  The little lochan next to Duill and Shian has clouds of spawn in the shallows.  I haven't seen a wild primrose yet, and the snow drops in the garden around the farm house are still flowering - they seem to have enjoyed the prolonged cold this winter.  Watched a raven in our neighbours field, on the ground, pulling at something I couldn't see, its heavy head and beak almost animal-like as it turned to look back at me.
A feral black cat prowling the farm yard at the moment and upsetting the house cat.  Bold as brass, sitting out in the grass as Farmer went out to start his day this morning.  I haven't seen a hare this week but last week disturbed one ahead of us on a walk near the Cruachan - this habitat is not high enough for the resident hares to need to turn completely white, but we do see some funny half white ones every now and then.  There is more information on hares on Prasad's blog.  And finally Treshnish joined Facebook and has its own Page.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Another gentle week of weather passes

Chores, so much easier in the sun

I read in the Raasay blog I follow, recent weather described as 'boringly beautiful', and I know what he means in a way - we are becoming so used to waking up to lovely spring like sunshine every morning.  It makes doing the outdoor chores so much easier.  The lying snow finally all but disappeared last Friday - and the burn beside our house raged all day as the snow melt flooded down off the hill.  It was suddenly warm.  Sitting in the sun warm.  Taking off winter thick coats warm.  And the hill road between Dervaig and Torloisk was re-opened as the snow drifts blocking the road melted away.  There are still patches of snow lying though, giving the hill above Ensay a layered chequered look.

Heifers chase the bag

Work on the farm has taken on a snappier pace as if spring is in the step.  It is time to plan the pre-lambing gather when the ewes have their annual worm treatment, making sure we have the right medicines and lambing aids for lambing.  Although we are no longer certified organic (see this posting for explanation) we still follow the philosophy we used when we were.   The ewes had a routine annual pre lambing worm drench so that they were clear of any possible worm infection before they lamb.

In amongst all the regular farm work the dreaded water works have finally started to happen.  Plumber, Builder, Farmer and Excavator Operator were busy in the sunshine doing the necessary ground work for the water supply above Haunn, to keep the EU water regulations happy - digging trenches down heathery hillsides, laying new pipe, lugging huge new water tanks up hill, making a mess of the field, siting the home made insulated boxes to house the filtration system ...and the rest.

Farmer needs rails for small bits of fencing around the farm so we stole off to Croig one sunny morning, to look at larch rails locally produced from the community woodland timber.   A heron stood still by the jetty, and a sea eagle flew over our heads.  One of those Mull moments of being in the right place at the right time.

A Croig heron

It has been a quiet period for the wind turbine - alot of down time due to the lack of wind!     We have generated 5390 units to date, in the 21weeks since it was installed.  The estimated annual generation figure for our location and this size of turbine is 10,000kW a year.  We had imagined that we would generate the majority of that over the darkest bit of winter..but not this winter!

There are 3 cows left to calve.  And 9 shiny, inquisitive black and dun calves are beginning to team up and play.   They have been enjoying the best of both worlds - sunshine outside in the day time and coming indoors to the straw bedded cattle shed at night.    
                                                          Meg, the elderly Beardie

Our dogs usually know to be wary of the naturally protective instinct cow-mothers have towards their calves.   The farm dogs seem to know instinctively to creep round the edge of the field out of their way.  But the other day our aged and deaf beardie Meg decided to hide behind me instead when we were walking back to the farm from Haunn.  The cow nearest the track started to approach us in a fairly unfriendly way!    It was interesting to say the least trying to shout at the hard of hearing Meg for her to get away while the cow-mother kept on coming towards us.  Thankfully Meg decided to run past me and off out of the field, the cow-mother's attention turned immediately to chasing her and the moment of danger was passed as Meg sped out of harms way at which point, the cow went back to her calf.  

It was a useful reminder that cows are not interested in humans walking through them and their calves, but they really do not like dogs.   We have the proper signage up on the gate into that field warning 'path users' that under the Scottish Outdoor Access Code they should not take dogs into fields with young stock, and this is a fine example of why.  I should have known better.

We keep seeing a group of about a dozen stags on the Sitheans.  I disturbed them in the snowy walk to Crackaig a couple of weeks ago, and they have been up there alot since then.  You can pick out their heads and antlers against the skyline in the sharp light as sun begins to fall in the afternoon.  

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Ewe rescue, young trees and a Buoy story

After a big storm a couple of winters ago, we found a buoy washed up on the rocky beach where the Ensay Burn meets the sea, which had the words Dragon Lady painted on it.  This was not the name of any local boat that we knew of.   It joined the growing collection of buoys and we occasionally wondered where it had come from.  

Farmer had to rescue a ewe this afternoon, which was 'trapped' on a ledge on the cliffs near Port Haunn,  15 or so minutes walk from the Haunn Cottages.  Sometimes they end up on precarious ledges because they have grazed there, enticed by nibbles of sheltered grass, at the same time not noticing where they have got to, and once there, they don't realise they can get down by themselves.  Sometimes they take a leap into the unknown when they see a strange dog on their patch.  

Luckily for us all, this ewe did manage to get down safely.  The sight of Farmer and his Dog and the accompanying threat of being handled by Farmer (turned Rock Climber or the sheep version of a Cowboy complete with lasso) was enough - in a flash, she jumped onto a lower ledge, down onto an even lower one, and then onto a steep grassy slope and away.   So Farmer did not need to use his lasso this time after all.

It had been a bit quiet in the calving shed.  No calves for quite a while despite late night and early morning vigils.  And then this morning two cows gave birth within minutes of each other.  Both calves and mums doing well after a quiet day in the cattle shed in pens on their own.

We ordered some native trees today from a tree nursery outside Oban.  The prolonged cold spell over the last 6 or 7 weeks has meant that they have been unable to lift any trees all that time. The burn next to our house has these amazing ice crystals on it now.

Some time later, we did find out that the Dragon Lady belongs to one of the skippers filmed in the 'Deadliest Catch' and that they had lost hundreds of creels (and their buoys) in a big storm, worth thousands of dollars.  Had this bright pink buoy burst its rope in that storm, crossed the Atlantic and washed up here on the island of Mull on our home beach at the end of Calgary Bay?
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