Sunday, 24 April 2011

No miracle pulled out of hat for rural schools in Argyll.

Clachan School take a good look inside the Council Chamber.

On Tuesday Argyll and Bute Council met to decide on whether to send any, each or all the 12 threatened schools to Public Consultation. For these schools it will have been a charged, tense and harrowing day but outside the Council Offices at Kilmory (Lochgilphead) the sun was shining and the atmosphere was strong and defiant. A&B MSP candidate Mike Russell (SNP) was there as was Jamie McGrigor (Con). Jackie Baillie (Lab) and Mike Russell sat in on proceedings in the Chamber, as did some school children from North Bute. There was some inventive demonstrating and some great chanting, singing and even members of a pipe band. Ashfield School, similar in many ways to Ulva School, was given a reprieve but the 11 others were voted to go to Consultation. And if nothing is done to stop the process they will have to endure a further 6 months of tension, stress and uncertainty before they know whether the schools will stay open or not. This will mean the school children, teachers, parents and local communities will experienced a rotten, uncertain and extremely stressful 12 months.

Easter Saturday. Glorious sunshine. Bright blue sky reflected on bright blue sea. Hazy horizon views from Toechtamhor windows disappearing into faint clouds over Rum, Skye, Muck and Eigg. Lambing continues, perhaps a third of the way through. Farmer out at any time during daylight hours, checking the two flocks. Alice, Agatha (in photo below with her first lamb) and the gimmer Cheviots are in Scoma (the field with Medieval ruined settlements near the Point). This is a good field for lambing with plenty of grass and good shelter should we get those drying cold north winds. Luckily too, there is a route round it suitable for the quad bike.

For the first time (appallingly) since lambing began I accompanied Farmer and Jan (who is gently returning from nursing mother to working dog role) on an evening patrol of the field. Agatha came jogging up to the buggy thinking she was going to be fed - she has a fine young lamb now of her own. Alice is yet to lamb and Daughter is anxiously waiting for that event. Everything seemed fine, ewes and lambs mothering up, and those waiting to lamb grazing normally. One sitting on her own over a slight hillock, cause for concern. Binoculars out. Can't see anything untoward but move in closer to double check. She doesn't get up when we approach. Farmer gets down from buggy, and walks steadily towards her. Tail raised, you can see a head poking out. Farmer leaps as she begins to run. Farmer grabs her hind quarters and hangs on, slides over turf dyke on his belly, she can't get away. These Cheviots are alot bigger than Blackies, and more difficult to catch. In a trice Farmer has safely lambed her (in photo below). The head is larger than normal from the pressure of being a hung lamb, but it will return to normal in a few days. Heaving the mother into the back of the buggy, and placing the lamb in the recycled mineral bucket for safety on the journey back to the farm. Good job done. Back to the farm. Penned off so they can mother up.

Missing lambs in the inbye fields. Twice in the last few days Farmer has seen a ewe with twins in the evening and gone back the next morning to find there is a lamb missing.

In the 1970's there was a scheme called the Hebridean Bulb Venture which was set up to encourage farmers and crofters on islands like the Isle of Mull to try other crops. These daffodils in the Kilmaluag field are all that remains here of a failed attempt at early 'diversification' - in order to get a good show of blooms we have to keep the sheep out of this field!

Before going back out to check the sheep on the hill Farmer put 2 bat boxes up on the north wall of the Recycling Shed today.

Huge amounts of wood-fibre insulation arrived this week for our roof. It is being stored in every available shed. (thank goodness the cows are out on the hill now). I am shocked by the quantities of building materials this project is using, however you try to minimise the impact on the environment. We have become big time consumers, and I don't like it! Even if it will make the farmhouse far more energy efficient in the longer term.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

All kinds of things going on, and puppies growing on..

The farmhouse repairs are not finished but we have moved back in as Studio is now booked through the summer until September. Living in Studio for 2 months was a useful way of making sure it worked as a living space - and resulted in a little furniture moving (my favourite) means the sitting room feels refreshed and the kitchen enjoying a change as well. In addition, buying a small (low energy) TV for the main bedroom so parents can watch TV in bed, if they want to, once children have gone to sleep in the cosy boxbeds!

The farmhouse now has running hot and cold water again, with a working bath and loo (what a relief) and one day soon (I hope) we will have zoned central heating which will enable us to heat different areas of the house at different times. The ancient heating system we had before was all or nothing - I am appalled to admit there were not even thermostats on the radiators, so we will save energy with the ability to control!

As there is residual damp in the thick stone walls we are using breathable (woodfibre) insulation and Earthborn Claypaint which we haven't used before - these paints have no plastics or vinyls in them and will breathe with any moisture present in the walls, rather than blister or peel. It is lovely paint to use - a limited palette of colours which is quite a relief compared to the excessive choice of Dulux world. We have used LED lights in the kitchen and 2 of the darker rooms in the house, and what a different the spread of light makes. LEDs are low energy to run but expensive to buy initially. They pay for themselves in 2 - 3 years apparently and last for 10. (we'll see)

Where floors had to be replaced (rotten joists and the like) we have used reclaimed Junckers from the same source as used for the cottages - this time the batch we were sent (having not gone to look at it first) is covered in sports pitch lines so the floors look like jumbled up linear abstract paintings. (nice winter occupation with a blow torch to remove the lines? or careful siting of rugs?) And the leaky draughty north facing windows have been replaced by aluminium clad wooden windows giving these rooms a noticeable silence in a gale compared to before. The adhoc 'team' of local people working on the house have been fantastic, working hard and consistently - hopefully we will be finished soon!

What have we learned from renovating the house? It will never be as energy efficient as a modern house in terms of consumption, but it will be much better than it was before - using 'airtightness spec' round the windows, some additional insulation in walls, and controllable heating.

In a parallel world, the farm has been moving towards spring. New grass is slowly beginning to grow in the in bye fields; primroses are flowering in sheltered corners away from browsing sheep. Lambing is due to start any day, so Farmer is busy keeping a look out for any earlies. He is particularly anxious about the Cheviot Gimmers (Alice and her pals) who are lambing for the first time. Daughter's focus, I have to admit, has been transferred onto the seven growing pups, who consume alot of her attention. This is perhaps a good thing as previous to their appearance she was planning a private maternity bay for Alice in the stack yard, with 24 hour nursing care. Perhaps Farmer will be able to leave Alice to do as nature intended after all and just keep the usual watchful eye at an appropriate distance!

The cows are out on the hill with their calves, and fending for themselves much more. In the few days of heavy rain earlier in the week Farmer was tempted to bring them all back into the shed for some shelter but decided it was better not to interfere. The pre-lambing gather and treatment was done a couple of weeks ago, with the old team helping out.

For a long time Neighbour and His Cousin from Dervaig helped with gathering the sheep in off the hill, and at fank work over here, and Farmer would repay the favour helping out next door - a process known as Neighbouring, and a lovely tradition it was. But more recently the system has changed, and whilst Farmer and Neighbour still help each other out in other ways and at other things, Contractors have taken over the role of 'Neighbour' (whichever side of the boundary fence you are on). So the usual team is now Contractor and Neighbours Cousin from Dervaig, but Contractor had something more important to do (getting married!)(for which we all send Congratulations!!!) when we need to gather for the 'pre-lambing Gather' so the old team of Neighbour and Cousin came in to help instead. The ewes were given a treatment against worms and fly. This is very similar to the treatment they would have had when we were farming organically, they were allowed one prophylactic worm treatment a year and this is the time of year it is recommended to do it, prior to lambing so that they pass protection onto the lambs through the milk.

In late autumn Visit Scotland asked if they could nominate us for the first ever VESTAs European Sustainable Tourism Awards. Great, flattering, but not a chance of winning we thought! In February I realised that I had been ignoring an important email from the organisers of the Awards, thinking it was junk mail. It was only the words 'EXTENDED DEADLINE' which finally caught my eye. Oops. This was an extended deadline for nominees to complete a Profile Form so that our business could be profiled at the Awards Ceremony in Berlin. The questions were interesting (clumsily translated from German into English) and seemed geared towards far bigger businesses than ours, but I persevered and sent some photographs.

We decided early on that we were not going to accept the invitation to go to the Awards Reception in Berlin on March 11th. (As we try not to fly, it would have involved days and days by train - for a 2 hour Reception....I don't think so.) Imagine our surprise and delight though, when we heard that we did 'win'. We have been selected as one of 12 'Outstanding Examples' of Sustainable Tourism in the whole of Europe!! A small enterprise from a remote corner of the Isle of hasn't quite sunk in yet.

Tweets... the first Swallow. Garden full of daffodils. Goldfinches at the bird feeder. Wheatears. Wagtails. Frogspawn. Larches greening up. Strange cars on the road. Signs of Spring. Of Summer. Yesterday was windy but with balmy air out of the wind, and warm milky sun. Lovely to see familiar faces as regular guests return and to meet those experiencing Treshnish or Mull for the first time.

Treshnish is now on Twitter. I haven't quite got the hang of it yet, but finding some interesting Tweeters out there - like Guardian Eco, Lucy Brown and Scots Renewables.

At last some photographs of the puppies dotted through this posting. We still have a few boy pups to find homes for. Their father Cap is an incredibly good natured dog with a huge out-run, born and bred as he was on the high hills of Glen Lyon. He is good at going the distance when gathering along the headland, running up and down the cliffs. Jan their mother is happier in fields but useful on the hill too. She also has a keen eye and would work until she dropped given the chance. Please email via the website if you are interested in giving one of these pups a home.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Pre-season busy-ness

Puppies photographs and news of what has been happening on the farm in the regrettably long interval between posts will appear soon....
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