Sunday, 25 July 2010

Rolling fleeces picking blackcurrants

A huge fleece held up by Farmer in the doorway to the cattle shed.

The shearers finished off the last few ewes on Friday, so that is a big part of the summer sheep work done. The lambs were given a treatment against fly strike and they are all now reunited and back to the hill. Some years the shearers have come with someone prepared to roll the fleeces as they are dropped from the shearing trailer by the shearers. This year, at short notice, they were left in a heap, on a tarpaulin (to keep them clean) to be rolled at a later date. A job to add to Farmer's list.

The rolling trailer.

But this morning Farmer decided he needed to get it over and done with - so he reversed the tractor and trailer into the cattle shed, and used the trailer as a rolling table. With the wind up radio blaring and sheep dogs at his feet, he began to roll. Some time later he was joined by a willing young assistant who picked up the loose fleeces off the floor and handed them over to Farmer to roll, until the pile was gone. Each bundle was then stuffed into a huge wool bag, and sewn up with a huge needle.

Fleece number 301 - the last one of the day.

The shorn sheep are let back into the field where their lambs are noisely bleating and mothering up commences. Several hours later, when the field quietens down, you know the mothering up is mostly done and that it is safe to open the hill park gate and left the hill sheep drift slowly out on the hill again. Open that gate too soon, and they will mis-mother which you don't want.

Meanwhile a race is on in the garden to pick the heavily laden blackcurrant and gooseberry bushes before the cheeky blackbirds and sparrows get them all. The berries are perfectly ripe and very sweet. And for the first time in our life with this garden we have a rabbit or two - I think they are living under the old caravan, which incidentally is very good for starting seeds off in, in a cold spring - no slugs or snails, and lots of gathered sun warmth.

Time does not stand still on a farm, and living on an island means you have to think ahead, so even though it is only days since Fly died, we had to start looking for a replacement, as being the only sheepdog on the farm was too unfair a responsibility for Cap. At the end of the gathering for shearing he was totally whacked. Adverts in the Scottish Farmer have never been successful for us, as it arrives here late on a Friday, and by the time you have rung up about a dog, it has just been driven out of their yard.

So the obvious place to look is the internet, and that is what we did. In fact, we went back to the person we bought Fly from in the first place. A very long day trip took us there and back, it was one of those totally clear sunny bright days when the landscape shines in the strong positive light of sun, blue sky and white puffy clouds. Scotland looking absolutely Sunday best. Even waiting for the ferry at 6.15am was a joy. We had several bitches to choose from, and came home on the last boat with a lovely natured one called Jan. So a new chapter begins.

And here are the pet lambs, rushing in for their evening handful of nuts.

We have been seeing good numbers of basking sharks in the bay, sightings we never tire of.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Shearing time again

It has been a while since the last blog. Farmer and family took a holiday. Calmac excelled themselves on our journey to Barra. The usual boat was in dock being repaired, and the replacement boat was not very big and did not ride a stormy Minch at all well. The crossing which usually arrives about 8.30pm finally arrived at half past midnight and an estimated 90% of the passengers were sick. So it was not a pleasant trip in any way - to say the least.

This photo is of the sea the next day, when it was slightly calmer. A Barra lady who had been on the ferry with us, commented when we met in Castlebay a few days later that it was like childbirth - you soon forget, and certainly it was great to be on Barra again! The weather this time was not that good but we managed to dodge the rain and find a beach out of the wind everyday. Farmer donned wetsuit and jumped off Eoligarry jetty as often as he could into those sandy turquoise waters.

Interestingly and not surprisingly, given the ferry situation, the island seemed a lot quieter this year than last. But also, last year there were alot of touring campervans, with pitches ringing the machair on the airport beach Traigh Mhor. The machair has been fenced off this year here, because it is obviously a delicate eco system and was being damaged.

Round the island we saw several crofts where, over the winter, crofters have created a simple camp area for campers and caravanners, and it would be great if caravanners/campervanners could embrace the idea of still coming to the island despite the machair being fenced off. In using these on-croft facilities instead of seeking the free camping dream site, they will contribute to the local economy and enjoy more contact with their friendly hosts!

We heard tales of campervanners allegedly boasting how little money they had spent whilst in the Outer Isles, and if true, this is a great shame. Any visitors to the islands, whether on bicycles (plenty of those hardy folk cycling up the island chain in the wind and rain), staying in holiday cottages or in campervans, can benefit the island in more ways than one, by supporting the great facilities on offer and the friendly local shops, craft shops, pubs and cafes.

Okay gentle rant over now and back to the matters at hand. Shearing time. We get home and check the phone...Messages from the shearers saying can they come tomorrow..... What? *!* about short notice, and the holiday bags not even unpacked. But totally our fault for taking the holiday notion so seriously we didn't leave him a mobile number. So there ensued lots of phone calls to see if we could get organised in time. We couldn't and so alternative day would be arranged. Weather mixed and showery. Happily though as I write, sheep are in the cattle shed, keeping dry and waiting for the shearers to arrive at lunchtime - a result of neighbourly help for which we are very grateful, exhausted sheepdogs and good weather at the right time.

On a sad note, we lost Fly this week. She had to be put to sleep. She came to Treshnish in 2002, so she leaves a big gap. Here she is, last summer, pictured second from the right with her head down looking as shy as she often did. She was a loyal 'colleague'.

Farmer got a ride in a helicopter this week as he showed the pilot which areas of bracken needed treatment. This is the south side of the headland looking towards Rum in the cloud. And the second one of Calgary beach as he flew over from Bennan, peaty brown water coming into the turquoise bay.

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