Thursday, 27 October 2011

A quick catch up on the news.

Sorry, it has been a few weeks since my last posting. We had a week's holiday (a very wet one), up in Wester Ross at Shieldaig. We stayed in a cottage overlooking the loch and its Caledonian pine covered island with resident sea eagles. The cottage was bright and had lovely views - when you could see them through the sheets of rain being flung at the large picture windows! It was very well equipped with every appliance you could possibly wish for, and more than we knew how to use, but we were shocked when it dawned on us that we had chosen a cottage which didn't seem to have thought in any way whatsoever about the environment despite being right on the sea - it had the largest range of chemical cleaning products I have seen outside a supermarket - things I had never encountered before and had not known existed! Not a bottle of Ecover or Bio-D to be seen, no compost bin, no recycling encouragements...

I have to take full responsibility for our non green cottage choice. I was blinded by the need for south facing light and big windows - for the convalescent farmer to look out of whilst Daughter and I went off exploring. I did not take eco credentials, or lack of them, into account. I had looked on Green Traveller, Organic Holidays and GTBS websites but there wasn't an eco/green self catering cottage in Shieldaig that I could see, and this was where we wanted to be. I will be more careful next time as to where I choose!

Access to the Shieldaig cottage was along a path from where you could leave the car, and the cottage came complete with its own wheelbarrow for carrying your luggage (very sensible). Daughter and I quite enjoyed the unloading the car process (it was dry luckily at that point!) - navigating a plank bridge with a wheelbarrow precariously loaded with our bags! We had a really good holiday despite the rain and wind, did lots of resting and reading, and managed a few short walks with Farmer who was enjoying the novelty of walking without pain for the first time in 6 months.

One day we re-visited the decaying salmon fishing station at Redpoint, walking through the biggest puddles to get there, and through a lovely herd of cows already enjoying some winter feed on the edge of the pinky sand beach. (I will put some photos on the tinsheds blog over the next few days). Another day, we went over the high road to Applecross - the temperature gauge on the car went 7 degrees at sea level to 1.5 degrees at the top and we experienced our first snow of the winter. (gulp)

Farmer is making progress. Every now and then he does too much and has to retreat back to sick bay for a rest, but all in all, he is pleased with the lack of pain and can walk a couple of miles now which is a huge improvement on how he was, and a great relief. Thank you to everyone who has been asking after him!

I would be lying if I said we were having a perfectly normal autumn. A neighbour reckons there has not been one day without rain in the last 6 weeks - fairly grim at times, but when the sun comes out you forget the wet days.

It has been a quiet time on the farm. With the lambs and calves sold, and only a few stragglers still to sell, the silage is made, (some still in the field as it has been too wet to take a tractor in to collect it), new tups settling in with the others, and holiday cottages not fully occupied this week for the first time since March. We have a few short breaks coming over the next few weeks - enjoying the quiet of the island as it turns inward for winter.

Some colour in the field beyond the cattle building.

I do not tire of the view of Shian and Duill - standing out so white with Calgary and Caliach headlands behind them.

The windy aspect of the bad weather in recent weeks has been great for the turbine. It has passed 25,000 units now and is heading for 26,000! We had to phone Turbine Services last week as the box housing the generation meter was making a serious din. We wondered if it was over-worked and with the new owners of Proven not taking responsibility for the warranties on previous turbines we were a little worried we would be in for something expensive. Thankfully all it needed was to be shut down for 10 minutes, and then turned on again!

The knock on effect of winning the RSPB Nature of Farming Awards 2011, and the huge amount of publicity that brought, has been that we are getting booked up for next year much earlier than usual. This is wonderful for us, but not so great for those regulars who want to book and find that we are already booked for the time they want to come. We are even taking bookings for 2013!

Saturday, 8 October 2011

24,000kWH and rising

The promise of an Indian summer would perhaps have more aptly described as a monsoon. This is the burn next to the farmhouse. It has been running full blast for days. Luckily a little trench digging recently has meant we have not flooded the house again.

This is where you realise what a very sad individual I am. I wouldn't say I am academic enough in my approach to merit the term 'geek', but I do enjoy watching how our turbine performs. Our Proven 6kW wind turbine was installed around the 18th of October 2009. As part of the application for SRDP funding we had to submit a budget/business plan. This needed to show that the turbine installation was viable. We based our plan on producing 10,000kWH per annum and so we were very pleased at the end of year 1 to have generated just over 12,000kWH.

Earlier this summer when we discovered that a set of springs needed replacing (found one of the springs embedded in the ground near the turbine base, having blown off in a late May gale), we had to put the turbine brake - and wait. It took 2 months for our installers to get the okay from Proven to come and replace the springs under warranty, and as a consequence, we didn't produce any electricity for those 2 months. During that same 2 month period the year before we had generated 1,700 units. So for the second 12 months, date to date, we were bound to be down on production.

It was mid August when the turbine was repaired and spinning again. And I have been watching the generation meter and wondering whether or not we would catch up and amazingly - this week 10 days ahead of its second birthday - we have passed the 24,000 unit mark - short of the mid October anniversary - and in only 10 months of full working mode. Suffice to say, we are delighted!

The weather has been very unsettled and varies from one day to the next - in extremes! Yesterday we woke up in Glasgow to brilliant sunshine and had the most beautiful drive up to Oban with Farmer laid out in the back of the car. Autumn colours and brilliant blue skies. This morning woke up to low mist, dull sky, warm still air. Cobwebs dripping with misty droplets. Everything still and slightly dank. Now the wind has picked up again and it is raining hard. The rain does interesting things to the colour of the bracken.

Farmer's operation was a success, and now the challenge for him will be to do what the doctors order, and rest accordingly - for the next 6 - 8 weeks. So the focus in the farmhouse is definitely on convalescence and recovery. School holidays started yesterday so it could not be better timed.

On the farm, life must go on though and thankfully we have good help and support. On Monday the Dervaig Contractors brought the cows and calves in to the cattle shed in order to separate them, as the calves were going to market the next day. Cattle have extremely strong maternal instincts and taking the calves away is heart-breaking to watch. They take several days to calm down once the calves have gone. Lots of calling and mooing and searching. From past experience of post-weaning calves (and several destroyed fences) Farmer now leaves all the gates open from Haunn to the farm which allows them to rove.

This year somehow, a gate was closed by mistake and one cow was accidently left in the Haunn field whilst all the others were up at the cattle shed - Jamie managed to get her back to the others and brought the bull and No 63 up from 'the bottom' so the whole herd was back together. And another - just as I was leaving to go and catch the ferry in order to go and visit Farmer in hospital - got caught between a fence and a wall. Luckily both Dervaig Contractors and Jamie were able to sort that out for me.

The Dervaig Contractors took them to Oban Mart for us, and they were 2nd or 3rd through the ring. Prices were better than last year, but still down on the year before (the last year of our organic status). It is not a great feeling to know that your quality animals have not reached the price they deserve, and there are many possible reasons for this. Whilst not being pedigree Aberdeen Angus, they are nearly all pure Angus, where most of the west coast cattle are continental, and perhaps this is what the buyers who come to Oban expect, or to that particular sale, expect. It has sharpened our resolve to try and forge a relationship selling direct to the same farmer each year. We did this in the last years of our organic status, and it meant the animals went directly to a farm, missing out on potential trauma in the market, and that we knew what price to expect before the animals left the farm.

Anyway they have gone now and usually the cows would be enjoying the aftermath of the silage ground. But we still haven't finished silage making yet! I think we may have to abandon it though. Walking across the fields with splashing underfoot. The mess of taking a tractor into the fields just now would be unthinkable.

Good to see smoke coming from the Heating Station again. We have had a few issues with a pump recently and are grateful yet again for the oil back up boiler so that at least the guests can be warm - we really hate having to resort to it but we don't feel that we can expect our guests to give up their warmth whilst we sort out the tiny occasional niggle in the system. (There are vague but exciting plans afoot to lessen our dependence on wood-chip..... more of that later in the year....) The nearest panels to the Heating Station are the solar PV (Photo voltaics) and the ones on the farmhouse roof are the solar hot water ones.

Patterns in bi-annual foxgloves. Loved how these leaves almost spiral out of the ground. When so much vegetation is going into its dormant and dying off stages, it is lovely to see the beginnings of next summer's flowering plants already.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

A screw-driver, a book and a bearing - life this week at Treshnish.

This fencepost is at the top of the track which leads down to Treshnish from the public road. Lovely view of the woodland and the sea beyond from there. I took the time and walked through the natural regen. woodland area with the dogs, noticing the autumn colours creeping in slowly, to collect Daughter from the school car.

We have had a week of minor irritations, little hassles and problems but mainly the usual ingenuity has got us through - skin of teeth, fingers crossed and all that.

Nearly flooded but not. Yesterday was wet - rain of monsoon proportions. The farm track was reminiscent of foreign rain storms, brown rivulets running in fast and sharp zigzag lines down slopes of any gradient, and at one point heading straight for the back door of the farmhouse.

By evening, the brave guests had all arrived safely and finally before nightfall, the faintest pink sky above Coll to lift the spirit. Thank Goodness.

And today - dry and sunshine again, but underfoot very soggy.

September Silage..leading into October. We have had some beautiful days interspersed with the wet ones. Warm. Sunny. Windy. Another attempt to make the winter food for the cows. It used to be that we made silage in August. Our new Rural Priorities agreement stipulates that we wait until September.

This year has been an exception - what with Farmer being supposedly off work with sciatic pain and waiting for his operation, then Jamie who helps on the farm going off island for the best of family reasons (a beautiful baby daughter called Vhairi!) mid month and on top of that - the unsettled weather. Grabbing a chance and a break in the weather they managed to make a good lot on Wednesday - but it was nearly October!! Daughter and I took them ice creams we had bought in Dougie's shop - though they were pretty soft by the time we got them there!

The new (to us) baler doing so well ... or not? Having made and moved a good number of bales, finished the field as light began to fall, ice creams a distant memory...Just as it was getting dark, heading back to the farm, a bearing went on the baler and for a moment, the track to Haunn was blocked, and it looked as if it might remain that way for some time! Thankfully, they managed to get the limp baler off the road and out of the way of the guests. We ordered a replacement bearing the next day from Glenside Tractors in Campbeltown, and it arrived the next day. Thank you Royal Mail. (Not like the new pump for the wood chip boiler which is sitting in a carrier depot in Inverness - 10 working days it has taken so far, whereas if it had been popped in the post it would be here by now).

Water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink.... for a while. There is something ironic about all the rain we have had, and running out of water! At Haunn, a capacitor (sharp learning curve - what in my past life taught me about capacitors?) burnt out on the pump that sends the filtered water up into its storage tank on the hill. Why? Because inside a locked 'shed' a pipe suddenly became dislodged and started sending water into the Haunn garden instead...How? Goodness knows. But anyway, some sharp thinking and knacky plumbing meant that our guests never knew anything was amiss and Farmer does a trick with a screw-driver, a book (Bill Bryson) and his reading glasses until the new capacitor arrives.

Meanwhile it is now October. The ground has not really had a chance to dry up, even though it has been a beautiful afternoon but silage making had to resume. Make the most of the day whilst it is good. Farmer's on the Zetor as I write. Turning the silage grass. It is beginning to brown, from all the wet over the last couple of days, so they have to bale it now or it will be useless. Jamie is catching up on the orange tractor with the baler. Stopping every so often to clear the blockages from the wet grass. It won't be the best quality silage we have made but this has been one of 'those years'.

Last image in this post is tonight's sunset. Minutes ago. Makes up for all those tense moments in the week. Good night.

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