Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Contented cows on open grazed grassland and breeding sheep to market

Late flowering Rosa Rugosa near the Studio.

Today the Contractors have gone to Oban to sell 13 Cheviot gimmers and 27 cast ewes for us at Oban Market. It is a Breeding Sheep sale so hopefully someone will pay a fair price for our animals! We have no guarantee of what price we will get.

It was a good day for drying yesterday. And some colour still in the heather.

Mother and daughter. The calves are going to be sold next week. So sometime this week Farmer will call them along the track from the Haunn field into the Park, so that they are close at hand for weaning.

Before we had our own cattle, our neighbour grazed his cows here during the summer. He would take them back across the road when the calves were weaned and sent to market. Frequently the cows would come careering back over to Treshnish, bellowing and calling to their 'lost' calves. It would take a few days for them to calm down. We have the benefit of the cow shed, which means we can separate the cows from their offspring, and pen them opposite each other so there is the comfort on both sides - knowing where the other is, but safely weaned.

Calves, with Haunn Cottages in background.

Bittersweet affection between cow and calf.

Dying colours of Knapweed.

This lovely dun coloured heifer has been with the bull for the first time. So she will have her first calf in February. Her colour comes from her mother being a red coloured Highland/Beef Shorthorn and her black Aberdeen Angus father.

Seedheads near West Cottage, looking over to Tiree.

Mercurial light over to Tiree.

This is a Fox Moth caterpillar. We found two of them in the grass near the Haunn Cottages. They were HUGE - over 2 inches long. Fox Moth wingspan is 40 - 65 mm. Big.

Boundaries. This dyke dates back to when Haunn was a crofting township - there are 2 ruins next to West Cottage, as well as the remaining stone walls of a small animal enclosure in the Haunn gardens.

Mushroom ID is not my strong point.

The working dogs wait while we check the cows! Interesting interaction with the inquisitive calves. They sniffed the buggy. Not knowing the dogs were inside. Frights on both sides.

I am loving the sunlight on Montbretia. Clinging on to the colour and light of dying summer - it is definitely autumn now. And soon the wind will have blasted the last blooms from the garden, and leaves from the trees. Last weekend we had large deliveries of locally sawn and bagged logs so whatever the weather we and our guests can be warm!

Friday, 23 September 2011

In between the equinoctial showers

In between the showers, the wild and windy storms, we have had some lovely sunny moments this week. Farmer was grateful to the Contractors from Dervaig for coming to sort the last lambs and odds and sods for the next sale - on Tuesday in Oban. They put them through the fank and kept them to one side so that they are easy to round up for when James comes with his lorry on Monday. They are going to the market the afternoon beforehand and will be looked after by the Lairage Man overnight.

The weather brought torrents of rain one day and warm enough to eat outside days the next. Several of our guests felt enticed by the weather to swim in the sea this week. The camp site at Calgary has thinned out - in fact today when we went past, for the first time, it has been empty of tents or camper vans.

Clear peaty water running in the Treshnish burn. The heather is clinging on to its colour - just.

And brambles. What we are really missing is the vibrant red and orange of the rowan berry this year. Usually the rowan branches are bending with the weight of their berries but this year there are very few. We are about to order the beginning of the winter supply of bird food. The feeders will be an important life line this winter I fear.

We inherited these pink nerine lilies when we moved here in 1994. They are a welcome autumn colour in the vegetable garden.

Rosa Rugosa has flowered beautifully this summer, in Studio garden and in our vegetable garden. The huge hips are a valuable food source in autumn. The cows and calves have been in the Black Park for the last couple of weeks. There is plenty of grass for them. The scabious has been battered in the wind and the last few knapweed heads are clinging on, but most are over now. Sheep are allowed in to this field after the 30th of September.

We had a visit from someone last weekend who was surveying for signs of Marsh Fritillary. This is a key species in our management aims for the in-bye. He was not sure why, but said even though we have a huge amount of scabious, it seems that Marsh Frits favour some areas over others. What he looks for are their hibernation webs at the base of the scabious in clumps of grass. We were a little disappointed that he didn't find any, though he did explain numbers were low this year. He had been on the island for a few days and not found any sites that he didn't already know about.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Peaks and troughs and recycling.

Friday, as you might imagine, was an epic day with the announcement that we had won the UK RSPB Nature of Farming Awards. But by evening, we were down to earth with a bump and a thump.

Farmer left first thing on Friday morning to catch the 8.45 ferry to Oban in order to go to his pre operation medical check up at the Southern General in Glasgow. We were assured this could not be done by the very capable team at our local surgery in Tobermory, as he needed to meet the surgeon and have his operation procedure explained to him.

Hospital transport picked him up on the pier and delivered him to the hospital - it was arranged that he would be through with his check up by 2pm in order to get back to Oban for the 6pm boat home. Someone took 75ml of blood. They paged the doctor but no one came. They offered him lunch and cups of tea. They sent him home at 2pm. He had not seen the surgeon nor had the procedure explained nor signed the Consent Form. A race to Oban with 2 other patients was exciting (to say the least) and they arrived in Oban at 5.56 - which would usually be too late for the 6pm ferry as foot passengers must be ready to board 15 minutes before departure time.

When Farmer was half way between Glasgow and Oban I picked up a phone message from the Consultant who regretted that he had not seen Somerset that afternoon, and regretted further that he had to cancel Somerset's operation (due for Monday) as there was illness in the theatre staff. Bump. At this point I realised just how much energy we had invested in the operation being done this coming Monday, and how gutting it was that it had been postponed.

Somerset had no idea at this time about the cancellation, and luckily for him, the ferry was late and they were allowed on. Not so lucky when he tried to start the car at Ulva Ferry (when he stopped to pick up Daughter from an after school friend visit) the car would not start -at all. That was the second bump. But kind family lent him their car and so they did get home eventually.

Meanwhile at Treshnish, I was showing in the Treshnish guests. And all of them were a little cold. As the heating in our house has not been connected to the centralised wood chip boiler yet, I had no way of knowing that something was amiss. We have a warning light outside the Heating Station but that was not warning!

Investigation showed the boiler itself full of hot water but the system was cold. I guessed pump. Panicked. Phoned the Plumber. Emergency heaters for the guests and fingers crossed. He was here within an hour and a half - and on a Friday evening too. The fantastic Plumber (hope he reads this, but doubt he will) was confident. One thump. Nothing. Another. Slight noise.. another thump....action. Now I know. If the pump isn't working - thump it. (And the next day I had to do just that, as it stuck again!) Within half an hour everyone was warm and cosy. (and we have a new pump on order).

So from the dizzy heights of winning the Award to the reality of every day life - in one short day.

Today. Sunday. Sunshine. Warm. Walk. Sitheans. Heather. Dragonflies. Sunspots on the lochan. Late flowering Bog Asphodel. Looking at the view. Ling. Warning red fungi. Ewes watching. Dog watching.

And the worrying news that Proven (who made our turbine) have gone into Receivership.

Ever since we had to put in a new water tank, we have been worrying about how to insulated it so that it doesn't freeze. Finally Farmer hit on the solution - having seen the pile of tyres outside the garage in Tobermory. He is going to surround the tank in a wall of earth filled tyres! Brilliant! Recycling at its best - and no materials cost for us! All we need to make is a removable lid.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Some news and a big thank you.

I can tell you now. We had a call last week from Stuart Howsden who, Scottish members of the RSPB will know, is the Head of RSPB Scotland. He told us the extraordinary news -that we had won the UK Nature of Farming Awards...but that we were to keep it quiet until it was announced in the Telegraph on Saturday 17th September. What? Keep it secret?

What a secret! The days between then and now have felt terribly long! I realise now, worryingly, that I can lie through my teeth without batting an eyelid. So many people have asked us how we got on, and over the last 10 days we have looked them in the eye - and lied.

On Wednesday Dave Sexton, the Mull RSPB Officer, met Stuart and Dan (from Scottish HQ) at the ferry and brought them over to Treshnish in order that we could be presented with the Award and that they could get the necessary photo for the press release - see pic above taken by Dan.

It was a gloriously sunny day after some shocking stormy and wet weather earlier in the week. (Blue skies at last) Somerset took them on a tour just past the Haunn cottages, back to the farmhouse for a quick lunch before they were off back to the ferry (via Loch Na Keal and some sea eagles!) and we were left to attempt to absorb it all.

A staggering 22,000 people voted compared to around 6,000 last year. And amazingly we received 6,900 of those votes!

All we can say is a very sincere thank you to everyone who voted for us. Knowing that our blog has a readership of about 12, it is likely that our thanks will not reach the thousands who did vote for us, but the genuine thought is there.

There has been so much support from so many folk - on the island, off the island and from total strangers, and to us this has been the biggest 'win' of all. But it seems getting a Scottish farm to win the Award became an RSPB Scotland priority so thanks to everyone involved in that. RSPB staff on Mull (Dave, Debby and Sue) have really put in the time getting the votes at the Sea Eagle Hide, on the ferry, at BirdFair, on twitter. Thank you all.

The Telegraph article was published online early.

I will update the blog with farming news soon!!

Saturday, 10 September 2011

The afternoon we lost Granny.

Can you spot her anywhere? Granny is the miniature wire haired dachshund who came to stay for the weekend. We went for a lovely walk on the Sitheans and lost her in the heather.

Before you call out the rescue services.. she wasn't lost for long, but it is difficult to spot her in the heather, which as you can see, was looking amazing in the pre Hurricane Katja stormy light.

Farmer was very excited to see some grouse droppings. We value the few rare coveys of grouse on the rare occasions we see them on the hill.

Monday, 5 September 2011

That time of year again

The blog has been a bit quiet of late. The whole voting thing for the RSPB Nature of Farming Awards was exhausting and I was very glad when the deadline was over, and we could see beyond. We were touched by the huge amount of support and encouragement we received from so many people - from guests past, present and future, from strangers, from old friends, from neighbours, from all over the place. That is the big win as far as I am concerned, for that felt very special. Enough said!

The initial forecast for today looked dull and damp but actually it has been sunny and beautifully warm. Lots of bees enjoying the sweet nectar from vibrant montbretia by the garden wall, and dangling fuschia flowers. They seemed to ignore the hydrangea but I couldn't, and the kidney vetch in flower and in seed pod.

It was warm enough to feel like a fine Scottish summer day, but activity was definitely autumnal. The big sale at Oban Market tomorrow means lots of farmers would be sorting their lambs today. It is harvest time in the fank. Selecting the hoggs (ewe lambs) to keep for breeding, selecting the lambs for sale, taking off the 'cast ewes', ear-tagging the lambs, making sure everything going on the lorry has the right ear-tag, the right paperwork - as well as all the medicines needed and making sure the paperwork is in order. Lots of pens with different lots in them.

Thankfully, with Farmer out of action, we had the tireless help of the local Contractors today, who worked a 12 hour day and came in smiling at the end of it all with the list of how many there were to sell now, to sell later and not to sell at all. And Jamie came along when he could, to lend a hand. Farmer still managed to sneak into the cattle shed and move some hurdles to make the cattle pens into a lamb proof jail overnight.

Daughter tested out the memory of her past pet lambs - aided by a small amount of sheep food - soon had a stampede of Alice, Brownie, Breeze, Agatha, Brian (and the rest) almost knocking her over to get at the bucket. Suffice to say, they remembered her. Or the winter feeding regime. One of the two. But all so very much tamer than the hill ewes who would not be nearly so brave! (Above are Agatha and Alice) (Below is Brian) (And below that Breeze)

The sheep had all been gathered in last week, to the Park - the big field around the cattle shed. It is green and grassy so plenty for them all to eat prior to today. As soon as the ewes had been through the fank, they were put back onto the hill, and for a while they hover near the hill fence - torn between wanting to get back to their regular 'heft' and wanting to find their lambs.

Last week with family staying Farmer managed to fire up the Dutch Oven again, for a delicious beef stew.

The last photograph today is of the peeling paint on the rusting gate post at the corner of our garden.

A storm is getting up now - it has been well forecast in advance and we are prepared for high winds and rain. In between bouts of wind and rain against the farm house window in the dark, I can hear the plaintive bleating of ewes for their lambs. I hope the ferry isnt cancelled.

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