Sunday, 30 September 2012

Fences, walls and failed ferry crossings

My aunt would have said "What do you expect if you travel around the equinox?", and I thought of her alot on Tuesday when 'something' disrupted Farmer's plans as if we were working against the flow, rather than with it.

In the last couple of posts I mentioned the difficulty of getting the last ewes to market, because we don't have our own livestock trailer and the island based livestock haulier couldn't fill his lorry.  In the end our neighbour over the hill lent us a trailer which was very kind, and meant we could make plans.

However, even then, nothing was easy.  Firstly, Farmer was loading the 30 cast ewes on his own on the morning of the sale, and hurt his back in the process.  Not fine. Jamie was helping by driving his 4x4 to tow the trailer.  All fine.  The Sound of Mull looked reasonably calm. Fine. They got on the ferry for the 10.55 sailing to Oban.  All seemed okay as they were loaded on, several other farmers too with their own trailers.  However while I was here at Treshnish imagining that they were safely in Oban selling the ewes and grabbing the 2pm ferry back, they were still on the boat, and they didn't get off the ferry in Oban until 5.40pm! 
It had been quite wild and windy out here at Treshnish all day, but quite often it is significantly wilder here than in the more protected sound of Mull.  I could see big white waves were crashing on the rocks at the foot of what we call Calgary Point opposite here, the mouth of Calgary Bay.  But people sitting on the pier at Oban waiting for the midday ferry that never arrived said it didnt seem that windy in Oban....yet Calmac said it was too gusty to berth round and round they went in the lee of Lismore for over 6 hours.  Not great for the livestock on board to say the least, and irritating for the humans especially as the Lochaline ferry ran all day as it often does!  The 6pm sailing was cancelled so they couldnt even get home.  They had to stay overnight in Oban.  

We had spoken to the mart to tell them that they were stuck on the ferry and it was arranged that the animals could be 'bed and breakfasted' with them.  Once they were safely transported and sorted out, they could go back into Oban and find somewhere for themselves to stay! Farmer and Jamie ended up in a BandNoB, sharing separate beds in the bridal suite - for the bargain price of £20 each.     What a disruption to the day, and just one of those things when having made your decision to go however the odds seem to stack against you, you then have to give in to the consequences! So I was suddenly home without the child (whose school trip thankfully caught the first ferry that morning) and without the Farmer!

When Farmer got back it was straight into farm work again.  Because of the weather, wet ground, and wanting to avoid driving round wet fields in heavy tractors Farmer has decided not to move all the silage back to the Stack Yard but to leave them where they were wrapped on the edge of the Haunn field. This means putting a temporary fence up so that the cattle and the sheep cant get in and wreck the bales. 

Luckily we have a supply of stobs on hand for such jobs.

The wall of the Haunn field has this purposeful gap in it, which we assume was an old days way of getting sheep through from field to field.  There was either another rock to roll over the opening, or a shutter of sorts.  Nothing remains nearby, so we have a fence running along side it so the stock in each field can be kept separate.  Walls are a great feature of the landscape at Treshnish, I have been watching a wren dance around on the one by the office window today.


It was nice to see some knapweed still in flower, and I THINK either marsh or water ragwort. It is after all the end of September!  Because of the change in grazing patterns the willow is beginning to get some height too in the Black Park.  Another affect the current grazing patterns have is that it enables the brambles to take hold, which is great for making vitamin C rich winter syrups and crumbles but not so great for the sheep and the Farmer.  Cows are normally quite good at keeping brambles at bay or from spreading, but with the way we are grazing some of the fields now, the brambles are increasing. (see top photo). They can become a problem for the sheep who are tempted in to nibble the sheltered grasses within their mass, and become entangled in the briars.  So we need to check carefully each corner of the fields to make sure nothing gets stuck. 

We have decided after the difficulties experienced this week that we should look into buying our own small trailer that we can use to take the smaller lots of animals to market ourselves without having to rely on anyone else.  The blue van should be able to pull it which means we can avoid buying a 4x4 pick up. 

The school trip was a success and a tired but happy 12 year old collected from the ferry on Friday afternoon. 

On the way through the hill park yesterday afternoon Coco did her usual thing of wading into each burn and puddle along the route.  She got more than she bargained for at the culvert before the Black Park gate though!  She was sniffing and showing alot of interest in the big pipes, and then suddenly shot back as a hidden mink, which she had obviously smelt, spat its scary warning at her.  We watched for quite a while, and it occasionally poked its nose out of the gap, but as usual didnt have the right lens and didnt catch it on camera.

I am really struggling with the formatting of the new blogger editor.  Things seem to dance around and dont work as easily as the old one!

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Good, bad and sad - notes from the week at Treshnish.


Good to see the sanderlings on the beach yesterday morning. The sunlight creeping over the hill behind Calgary House threw soft pastel colours onto the watery sands. The elegant sanderling ran along the almost metallic water's edge, occasionally taking off for a short flight showing their beautiful wings before landing to start feeding again. 

The tide was high this morning, barely any sand for a puppy to play on, dotted with clumps of fresh seaweed, random fishing boat plastic and an occasional victim of the storm (guillemot). 

Light changing as the stormy weather blows in and blows past, bringing fantastic stair rod rain in sharp bursts between high scudding clouds and moments of brilliant sunshine.  My grandfather was a soldier in the Gordon Highlanders but he loved to paint watercolours as a record of where he had been and where he lived.  The changeable weather recently reminds me of something I was told that he always said about the light in Mull (he died long before I was born) - which was how difficult it could be to paint, because the light was always changing.  That certainly is the case just now.  His watercolour paintings are in some of the cottages. 

Farmer is busy with the sheep today. The in-bye cheviots have not been through the fank recently and so he is just quietly on his own (with Cap the dog) carefully work through them.  His back is never good after a day working with the sheep, or sitting on the tractor bracken cutting or making silage for that matter.  Not quite a year since his operation, and whilst it is so much better than this time last year, unfortunately the physical nature of farm work doesn't do it much good and help for the future needs to be found! 

Sad to see the minke whale washed up on the rocks between here and Calgary Beach.  Something undignified about this magnificent beast being reduced to a floating mass at the mercy of the autumn weather, picked up and dropped back with each tide.


Good news that yesterday afternoon Farmer and Jamie were able to finish wrapping the last bales of silage in the sunshine!  The prescription within our  environmental agreement for September late cut silage allows birds to safely rear their young, and most wild flowers to set seed.  It is a risk though because of the unsettled weather!  Silage made when the grass has first grown enough and the sun has been on it (!) will be nutritionally richer than the silage made later in the summer, so additional supplementary feeding is necessary to make sure the cows have all they need to maintain them over the winter and nurture their unborn calves.  We will get the silage tested so that we know what feed value it has - this helps get the balance right within unintentional over or under feeding.

One of the blue egg laying Aracona hens has hopefully reared our last brood of chicks.  3 hatched but only 1 survives now, and she is well attended by her mother who becomes completely ferocious if you go anywhere near.  

Bad news in a small way that James our livestock haulier is not taking a lorry to next Tuesday's breeding sheep and lamb sale in Oban.  We have about 30 ewes to go, and cannot find anyone to take them for us.  We only have a tiny livestock trailer for a few sheep, not for 30!   We sold our old livestock trailer in 2001 and have had no need of one since then, because a farmer near Dervaig used to take small and large numbers of stock for everyone around and about in either his lorry or his livestock trailer.  However the legislation and regulation got the better of him and he sold his lorry.  That leaves James as the only island based lorry haulier on the island. Most farmers have invested in a livestock trailer of their own now, and move their lambs to market in smaller numbers.  But that makes it more difficult to fill a lorry with the odds and sods.  If we end up needing to get our own livestock trailer again, we would have to buy a pickup in order to be able to pull it, and for alot of different reasons we are loathe to do that.

The veg garden has thrived on neglect this summer. Inside the polytunnel the fennel is flowering, attracting little hoverflies.  The wild rocket which we have not replanted for years is sharp and peppery, and one whole bed is overtaken by strawberry runners.  I should put a notice up for our guests asking if they want to take some home!  

Outside kale and brassicas galore.  The overall look of the garden is so healthy, without bugs, and I thought, without cabbage root - but yesterday a cavelo nero plant had fallen over with the tell tale perhaps we have not escaped without it this year. Serve us right for buying in brassica plants.   I made a huge pot of fiery kale and garlic pesto with the fallen plant, so fresh and green.  Apparently kale has more iron than beef and more calcium than milk.  Just as well we have grown lots of it then.

Peacock butterfly in warm September sun, down by the Boathouse (below). (yet again I wish I had a longer lens.)


Good news that our 'neighbour', over the hill at Torloisk, thinks he will be able to fit our ewes in his livestock trailer for Tuesday's sale.  Farmer very relieved. And very grateful!

Friday, 14 September 2012

Walks, ferries and family time

We had a great excuse to take some time off this week. Farmer's sister, who had never been to Treshnish, came to stay with her husband. Plus two milestones in our lives passed too - the calves were sold (of more below) on Monday, and I stepped down from USCA on Thursday night when a new Convenor was chosen to take my place.

Walking Coco in the woods at Calgary.

Cafe Fish window on a wet September afternoon.

The calves were sold on Monday at Caledonian Marts in Stirling, at their native breeds sale. We have kept with Aberdeen Angus cows and bull all these years as they are a Scottish breed and we like their native qualities. When we were organic, we sold directly to another organic farm which meant there was less stress on the animals not having to go through the market, and less stress on us because we knew what we were being paid before the animals left here - a price per kilo.

But since then we have had to rely on the market and it really has been a lottery. If our cows were pedigree we would probably be able to find a farmer who would buy straight from the farm, but they are not pedigree. (Apologies if I have already said all this on earlier blogs.) Year 1 of no longer having organic status we sold our calves in Craignure (2010) and only received half the price we had got the year before.... Last year (2011) was an improvement on 2010, but by no means equal to previous organic years.

Most of the store calves from the west coast are continentals - and we had realised that the buyers were prepared to pay more for them than for our native calves. So we decided to try the traditional sale in Stirling. Initially we were disappointed by the prices we got, about 30p less a kilo than continentals were getting in Oban the following day, but the market report from the Stirling sale in our local paper showed that on average our prices were no worse than anyone elses at that sale, which made us feel a bit better. But it was making us think perhaps about replacing Equator, our Angus bull, for a fine red Limousin bull, which we can buy from a farmer 10 miles away. But Equator is a very gentle natured bull, (important on a farm with lots of visitors) and his calves thrive. So perhaps we are best to stay as we are... time will tell.

Calgary Beach this morning. Beach finds: hot water bottle top, brown Irish fish box.

Sun just appearing over Calgary dunes.

Earlier in the week - Oban. Farmer did the shopping whilst I went to an USCA related meeting.

Coco had her first visit to the Isle of Ulva today. (above, with Donald the Ferryman). The continuing storm was raging over Treshnish, with the wind coming from the north west, but Ulva Sound was alot calmer, and the Boathouse serves up a fantastic lunch which we started eating outside in the sun, and finished up inside when the rains came again!

The Boathouse Ulva Fishermen's Platter. (delicious)

Skies cleared after we had finished lunch, so we managed a dry walk. The rowans are fantastic this year.

I attended my last USCA committee meeting on Thursday. With Daughter now at High School, and living outside the USCA area as we do, it seemed to make sense for me to step down so that someone more local could take over. I feel very lucky to have been part of getting USCA started, and wish it well for the future. I know I will go on feeling like a broody hen whose chicks have been taken away from her until I fully let it go. Farmer is looking forward to me getting back into the farm office to restore some kind of order... we'll see!

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Silage in September, and calves away.

The weather on parts of the west coast including Mull has been pretty good this summer - to say the least! I suppose it goes without saying that as soon as we really need some consistently good and dry weather though, it will begin to be unsettled! And so September came in - 1st September being the date we are allowed to cut certain fields for silage - with alternative good and bad days - drying sunshine and light wind, alternating with downpours and stronger winds...

The Haunn field is our silage field this year. Earlier in the summer it was ablaze with drifts of colour from the many varieties of wild flower that seem to thrive with the way the field is managed. We rotate which fields we cut on a 4 year rotation, a habit we picked up when we were farming organically, and one that suits our zero artificial fertiliser system the best. The only fertiliser we use is well rotted FYM (farmyard manure).

Jamie was available to help the Farmer this week and having consulted xcweather they cut, baled and wrapped one half of the field before Thursday's wet and windy storm! That bit of field yielded 2 months worth of winter food for the cows.

Jamie drove the baler, which picks up and packs the cut grass into bales. This year they have made the bales slightly smaller. The net wrap holds it all together before the bale is wrapped. Releasing the finished bale means slowing the tractor down, the baler sounds as if it is about to stall each time it drops the bale, so you hold your breath - just in case - before the tractor speeds up and starts on the next one. To save time on the wrapper, Farmer moved the bales into one place before they started baling.

With the lambs gone, it was time to wean the calves, and this year we are taking the calves to a traditional breeds sale in Stirling. The lorries were full for the Oban sale so our only choice was for Stirling or waiting for a later sale date. Farmer brought the cows and calves up from the New Field into Black Park a couple of days before, and last night got them into the shed so that the calves would be easy to load this morning when the lorry arrived. They are well on their way to the market by now, and will stay overnight in a field beside the market, before going into the ring tomorrow. We hope we will do better at a traditional breed sale than our last experiences at the local sales - where the buyers come looking for more continental beasts.

What was wonderful to see were the swallows hawking and swooping over the sward. A lovely view too!

Coco is still growing and becoming very nimble on her back legs. She almost stands up on them. Unfortunately this nimble-ness means that she can see over the edge of the kitchen table now.

Regular readers of the blog may know that I am partial to photographing tin sheds. On Thursday I went off with my neighbour (potter Charlotte Mellis) to Skye to look at a tin shed or two. We discovered the Tattie Bogal Festival on the west coast of Skye.

This one was called Bert Droppings.

This one was called Chris Hoy. I loved the backdrop of course.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

The 11th Seafood Extravaganza at Dervaig Village Hall.

The Menu.

Here follows a slightly incomplete photo-story of a great night. I didn't get any pictures of the team of helpers outside shucking oysters, or those who washed up and up for hours in the kitchen, or those who waitressed along side me. I didn't get a picture of Iain Thomson singing (which was wonderful as it always is). I didn't get a picture of the hardworking Hall committee members either - I will try harder next year!

But here is what I did get, on a camera with a fading battery.

Everyone seated, waiting for the feast to begin.

And in the kitchen, the fresh oysters are ready.

Lobster and crab for the platters.

The smoked salmon/horseradish cream filo and crab filo tarts to follow the oysters. (I forgot to get a photograph of the chowder that followed all this.)

Nick - master of ceremonies, man with the original idea, and man who organised everything - and Michelle - head chef and in charge of the kitchen team. Just before the platters went out.

And the 'fest' begins.

And after fresh fruits and delicious homemade meringues, the auction...

Auctioning off chocolates, whiskies and wellies....

Nick's old wellies 'guaranteed to wet your feet' (i.e. well used with holes) beautifully decorated by Helen Mortley, and raised £60 and quite a few laughs in the process.

Coffee with Island Bakery shortbread, followed by a dram with Michelle's tablet ended the evening.
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