Saturday, 25 February 2012

Calves, conferences, cottages and cleaning

It is nearly two weeks since my last post, and the days have disappeared in a bit of a blur.

Calving is well underway now, everyone safe and sound in the cattle shed. It is so easy to check them in the shed. 6 calves so far and no one requiring Farmer's assistance (so far). I will post some photographs soon! There has been so much rain this winter that the ground is really waterlogged. It is a huge benefit to us that our cows can be in doors, not just from the welfare advantage of being able to check them regularly day and night (both for cows and Farmer) but they are not out stodging around on the fields, and the tractor is not doing endless journeys up and down to Haunn to feed them. The disadvantage is that Farmer's back is not enjoying forking out the silage.

Our locum vet did come to look at the bull 10 days ago, and did some blood tests (double checking for things like Johnnes Disease - a difficult to spot wasting disease). The results came back showing a slight drop in protein levels but nothing more untoward otherwise except for a sore tooth, so Farmer has increased the bull's short ration a bit (perhaps the very late cut silage hasn't as much goodness in it as usual). We bought Equator from the Isle of Bute, and he was tested for Johnnes before we bought him - but having lost a bull to the disease a few years earlier, we didn't want to risk it again as you can introduce Johnnes to the whole herd that way.

I have been off to the Rural Housing Conference as USCA Convenor. This annual Conference takes place in Dunkeld, organised by the Rural Housing Service, who have been very supportive of what we are trying to do in the Ulva Ferry area. Dinner on Thursday evening was held at the Birnam Hotel where most of the delegates were staying, a hotel which seems to have avoided decades of 'changing rooms' decorative improvements, in a delightfully Highland way, lots of dark wooden panelling and tartan. We dined in a huge high ceilinged hall, full of atmosphere whilst Dunkeld Rotary held a rather more smart black tie dinner downstairs - lots of ladies in dresses and men in kilts.

It was great to see a few (becoming) familiar faces, and to hear stories of what other remote communities are doing across Scotland. A Development Officer from Westray (Orkney) telling us that their community turbine was earning the community more money than they could have dreamed of. Someone from Applecross talking about their community filling station and their situation similar to USCA's in that neither of the community groups own their own piece of land. West Harris Crofting Trust selling discounted/affordable plots on the stunning Luskentyre beach to young folk with strong links and commitments to the area. Conference next day keynote speaker was John Swinney Minster for Finance. I was interested by the questions raised by delegates on specific issues regarding funding for housing, and community renewables, and watching him writing notes and offering to follow things up back at Holyrood. Alot of the day felt very relevant to our hopes for USCA - how to be clever with funding and so on, and we managed a useful meeting over lunch regarding one particular on-going USCA housing project.

So whilst I was gadding about networking and having time with my friend who works on the railway and lives near Dunkeld, Farmer and Daughter were holding the fort so to speak. Farmer undertook cleaning 2 cottages for guests arriving this weekend, whilst waiting for the wood-chip delivery on Thursday. And man-handled 2 fridge freezers (for West and East), a fridge (for Duill), and our first ever electric tumble drier (A rated) when they were delivered the same day. Having spent many late night hours trolling through webpages looking for much needed replacement A-A++ appliances with fairly inconclusive results, I had an hour to kill in Oban last weekend and the very helpful ladies at the 'Hydro' sorted me out with the low energy A-A++ rated appliances I required - delivered for £19.95 by Derek Wilson Carriers within 5 days!

And on Friday Ulva Primary was doing a beach clean at Killiechronan at the top of Loch na Keal. Farmer went along to help. They filled a whole skip. Lots of local wildlife operators turned out to help the school too. When he and Daughter got back at the end of the day, there was a heifer beginning to calve. Farmer continued to do the bedding up for the cows whilst Daughter watched the birth. She cleverly spotted that the calf, although borne easily, still had the 'bag' over its head. Having sensibly alerted Farmer, he was able to rub clear the nose and mouth and get the calf breathing. If Daughter hadn't been watching, there might not have been such a happy result.

We had our inspection by Visit Scotland Quality Assurance last week. 2 for the price of 1 this year, as two inspectors came. To keep our costs down I have decided to only grade 4 of the cottages for 2013 so instead of looking at all 8 cottages, they looked at Studio, Shieling, Middle and Toechtamhor. We don't see the paperwork for a few weeks, but they reassured me that we had easily maintained our grading and that there was nothing to worry about. It is always nice to see the cottages through someone elses eyes, and they both said very nice things about the cottages and the location. The sun had broken through by the time they left and the cloud had lifted from sea level and the views emerged.

Jamie has been in checking the sheep and trying to persuade any invaders he sees to return from whence they came. Sheep will enroach and if you let them they will keep on doing so - until they are pushing our own sheep back on themselves. So a little gentle shepherding every now and then reminds them of the lovely land they have on their side of the boundary!
A good few years ago now, one of our ewes appeared at Killiechronan - about 18 miles away.

Our first daffodil. What a shock it was to see that yesterday. Snow drops in the garden have finally turned - they have been beautiful this winter. And the escallonia showing how windy it has been - bare branches on the seaward side of the hedge.

We have passed 32,000 units on the wind turbine generation meter! Half our annual target (12,000) since mid October, and have 6,000 left to produce before next October. About 30% up on last winter. With the amount of rain it is unfortunate that we don't have an obvious site for a small hydro scheme at Treshnish.

Tom Prescott's lovely article came out in the Butterfly Conservation magazine. So proud to see our name there, with photographs of this beautiful place we are lucky enough to live in. If it hadn't been for Tom's encouragement we would not have entered for the RSPB Nature of Farming Awards in the first place!

Monday, 13 February 2012

Highland Cattle Sale, Oban

We couldn't go across yesterday to the Highland Cattle Show as one of our own cows started calving just as we needed to leave, and we couldn't leave her until we knew her calf was safely born - by which time it was too late for the ferry. A few hours later and another calf was born too! So our calving has definitely started.

But the sale was interesting too.

Not a hair out of place.

Fans to keep them cool.

Neighbouring cattle from across the end of Calgary Bay.

Love the Highlander shaped Prize cards.

I don't know if anyone took up the offer of a Valentine's gift from Glasgow! We didn't. We were given a cow once though - a beautiful white Romagnola heifer as a wedding present, and a long time ago! She came from Mull too, though we were not living here at the time. It was the most generous present, and she was the beginning of our own small herd of cows.

We did not come home with any Highlanders though. Lots were being sold to Switzerland, Estonia and Finland today. They are used in grazing management projects. Perhaps we should be thinking of using them here - they graze in a different way from the Aberdeen Angus.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

The week in pictures at Treshnish

Winter sun on reeds near Haunn.

Hopefully not. New chicken shed door.
Our oldest hen. Scots Dumpy.
Getting cottages ready for half term guests.
Ancient geranium in Shian window.
Signs of growth in the garden. Rhubarb.
Mist over Caliach Point.
Blue light over Sound of Coll.
Concentrating sheep dog.
Winter maintenence.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

reducing, renewing and making

Making: Farmer is a big fan of small batch or homemade marmalade - his particular favourite is made on Mull by Gremlin who lives along the stunning Loch Tuath coastline overlooking Ulva, just over the hill from Treshnish, and the other (which he doesn't get to eat as often as he would like) is made by Anna and Norrie at Ard-dariach, in Lochaber. Something is afoot though. But....guess what I was given for Christmas? A full on, all singing, all dancing proper jampot. And guess who came back from a trip to Oban with all the jam/preserving sugar he could get his hands on yesterday? Hmmm.

Renewing: We have had a spell of lovely still sunny and dry weather. Great that it coincided with Andrea and Jon from the Green Tourism Business Scheme coming to stay in one of our cottages! They came over to speak at 2 eco/green tourism conferences being held by Holiday Mull, our local tourism marketing group. I was involved in suggesting who might speak at these events, and who might come along to act as exemplar 'local heros' for the workshops. Lots of ideas came out of both conferences, about Visitor charters, Eco charters, 'greening' the islands, improving public transport and so on. Andrea was a great speaker, full of facts and figures, but inspiring, light and positive at the same time.

The next day they took their stand to the Sustainable Mull and Iona Renewables Fair*, and accepted their first new GTBS member! After their 3 day GTBS working weekend, there was time for one day off before they headed back to Perthshire on Monday. So it was great - the weather was good, they were able to explore Treshnish a bit - and they had 6 white tailed sea eagle sightings in one walk - along the coast beyond Port Haunn!

Prasad has been seeing the eagles alot too, as well as pretty white Iceland Gulls, so keep up with his blog for details of his sightings and some lovely photographs of buzzards tumbling.

On the farm, we are waiting for the first calves to be borne. The bull is waiting for a visit from the locum vet, as he looks a bit under the weather and has a blue-ish cast to his eyes, so we want to make sure he is okay. As Farmer was away during the day yesterday, I went to check the cows at lunchtime. They had finished the silage that was within reach of them. The sides of the feed passage were bare. I forked the silage from the middle into the sides. Slowly the cows all came to eat, and the bull seemed to be enjoying his - he moans appreciatively as he chews. No calves yet.

Reducing: It has been a busy theory week at Treshnish. We are trying to come up with a less electricity-dependant way of heating Toechtamhor. I hate storage heaters. I feel there is a conspiracy between the electricity companies and the manufacturers. The heaters have a thermostat that we cannot change which governs the minimum heat. So it means we cannot leave the heaters on low during the winter, as their idea and our idea of low is about 8 degrees apart, and goodness knows how many £s apart. We have been busily researching alsorts of things - air source heat pumps, air to air, air to water, ground source heat pumps, RHI, FIT, CoP, panel heaters, pellet boilers, pellet stoves and as yet none the wiser. (Will keep you posted!)

I am going to publish this unfinished blog, in order that I can start the next one, as this one is almost old news, given that I started it a week ago.

*Alastair McIntosh was keynote speaker at the Renewables Fair, and it was wonderful to hear him talk. He spoke of the potential power of communities on all levels - having been involved with the setting up of the Ulva School Community Association, and acting as USCA Convenor at the moment, it rang true in many ways!
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