Donald Macsween

Website: http://www.airanlot.com

Bio:

  • Air An Lot at 8 Port of Ness

    UncategorizedComments (1)

    On January 22, 2017 • By

    I’ve been sitting on this exciting news since last summer; Air An Lot will now offer holiday lets.

    image2 (3)8 Port on a lovely winter’s day

    An offer was made for house & croft last summer and finally went through on the 12th of January.  It’s something that’s been in the pipeline for the past 18 months or so, but only became reality when the right property became available.

    That property is the house and croft at 8 Port of Ness.  I’ll probably sound like an estate agent advert now but hang on in there!  A lovely wee traditional ‘department’ cottage built in the 1950s (there were lots of these homes built here post-war) with two double bedrooms and one single.  As it is just now, I would be more than happy to stay there myself, but it will have a new kitchen and bathroom before it’s let, as well as being redecorated.  Plenty to be getting on with in the next few months!

    Equally as exciting, for me, is the 5 acre croft and barn that come with the house.  I already have my ewe hoggs down there (it’s about 2.5 miles from my house) but I don’t expect to have any other livestock down there – best to keep everything else where I can keep a close eye on them!  As always, I do have a couple of ideas up my sleeve for the croft, watch this space!

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    A panoramic of the croft, barn and view.  Port of Ness Harbour & beach (and Cafe Sonas) are a 5 minute walk away

    I expect the house to be available for let from May onwards.  Prices and how it will tie in with other Air An Lot activities will follow.  I have set up a new Facebook page for the house, where I will keep folk updated on progress.

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  • New Hens

    Adventures, Agricultre, Chickens, eggsComments (1)

    On July 10, 2016 • By

    A little under two years ago, I travelled the length of Scotland in a hire van to collect 320 hens. This week, these hens have all gone, and have been replaced by 300 new ones.

    The past week has been hectic. I decided to rehome the old hens, rather than cull them all, because even though a two year old hen isn’t commercially viable any more, she lays enough to keep a family in eggs.  Production for me recently was at about 30% of what it was last spring – with feed costs the same – so I have been eagerly awaiting this new batch.  I ordered them over the winter, from Donald ‘The Hen’ in Skye, and he delivered them to my door.

    The old hens left during the week, with folk coming in their droves to rehome them.  Many took 4-6, while some took 10-30.  I didn’t ask for any payment for the hens, I was just wanting them gone.  I did have to cull some, though.  It wasn’t something I was particularly keen on doing, but there were about 30-40 that couldn’t be rehomed, for one reason or another.  Myself and Innes did that on Thursday night.

    Saturday was a really strange day.  The hen house was eerily quiet, with only a handful of birds left. That didn’t take long to change though!  The new ones arrived around 2.45pm, and by 4 they were all in their new home.

    Because the hen house is a hundred metres off the road, we had to transport the crates using my pickup. Uisdean here came to give me a hand.

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    Myself and Uisdean ferried them to the hen house, while Donald unloaded them.  It was smooth and easy, so I was quite happy with how it all went.

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    That’s them all inside, bunched up in the corner.  Very nervous in their new surroundings, I will have to get them used to me going in and out, and also Bud being amongst them! He comes with me every time I go up there, so the sooner they get used to him, the better.

    These birds are around 17.5 weeks old, so should start laying in the next 2 weeks or so.  I reckon it’ll be around a month before I have decent sized eggs (pullet eggs are very small) but it’ll be full steam ahead then!

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  • Crofting

    UncategorizedComments (12)

    On April 27, 2016 • By

    I haven’t blogged in a while, but I feel I have to get some of my thoughts down on paper, following the recent turn of events in the crofting world.  An issue has arisen with the Upper Coll Common Grazings (you can read about it here), which resulted in the committee being “sacked” by the Crofting Commission.  I’m not going to write about specifics here but I will instead point you in the direction of the excellent Crofting Law Blog, which has recently posted about the matter.  My immediate concern is what does this mean for the rest of the crofting world.  As I heard one crofter say, the Commission “want crofters, just no crofting”.

    On Monday of this week, the Commission posted this news article, “reminding” crofters of their rights and the duties of Grazings Committees.  This is what has prompted a mixture of anger and concern amongst numerous crofters.

    My attention was drawn to the section on Financial Management, with particular focus on the following statement:

    “As trustees, any money received by the committee belongs to the shareholders and should be distributed to them as soon as is reasonably practicable.  It is not the township’s or the committee’s money and as such it is the duty of the grazings clerk to distribute any money received from whatever source, but in particular resumptions, according to each individual shareholder’s share entitlement whether or not they are active in the grazings.”

    My understanding of this then is that no Common Grazings Committee should have any funds in reserve, and should operate with zero in their bank account.  This seems nonsensical to me and totally impractical.

    What happens when a village wants to carry out some improvement work, or pay some incidental bills?  Well, all shareholders have to stump up:

    “When the grazings committee require monies to maintain the common grazings and the fixed equipment or to carry out works for improvements, the committee must levy and recover the required monies directly from the shareholders for onward payment to any third parties.”

    According to what I’ve read, these details have been in place since the 1993 Crofter’s Act, but there has obviously been an element of common-sense in place until now.  While I’m sure most shareholders would readily accept their share of any township income, have you ever tried getting money out of people who a) don’t have it, or b) don’t want to part with it?  I think it leads to (totally unnecessary, in my opinion) friction within villages.

    I’m going to give some (hypothetical) examples of why I think this approach is detrimental to crofting, and community life in crofting townships:

    Village A has 20 shareholders, with 10 of those actively using their crofts & common grazing share (half being active is generous, in my experience). The 10 active crofters in the village meet regularly (notifying all shareholders) and decide to enter Village A into a corncrake scheme, which pays £5000 per annum, for 5 years, into village funds.  This money must then be immediately paid out, with each shareholder receiving £250 (lets say they all have equal souming/shares) and they are more than happy to accept the money.  The active crofters then are unable to put the money directly to use for the village, and they also lose out on access to the common grazing for part of the year (as set out by the scheme).

    The Grazings Committee decide to repair the fence at a cost of £10,000.  Each shareholder is notified about the village intentions, and the committee put in time & effort to secure a 60% grant towards the cost of the fence.  This means that the outstanding balance of £4,000 must be paid by each of the shareholders. The 10 active crofters agree to paying their £200 share, but those not using the common grazing refuse to do so, meaning that the active crofters either have to pay £400 each, or the fencing cannot progress.

    The village gets their fence, and the 10 active crofters each put 50 sheep onto the Common Grazing land.  The village charges a levy of £1 per beast, meaning that the active crofters pay £50 each into the township bank account, which is then immediately redistributed amongst the 20 shareholders.  The active ones get £25 back, while the inactive ones also receive £25.

    In the end, the active crofters say stuff this.

    The way I see it, this approach does nothing to encourage active crofting, it actually encourages those who are inactive to hold onto their crofts, particularly if they are in a well-run, well-off village.  It can lead to the breakdown of communal activities, of communities, of traditional working practices. It’s infuriating.  These things might make sense from behind a desk, but absolutely do not when put into a practical context.

    I have previously been Grazings Clerk of our village and the last time we met to elect a new committee, I was the only person who attended the (advertised) meeting.  I certainly wouldn’t encourage our village to elect a new committee just now; we don’t have a lot of money in the bank, and I really wouldn’t like to go knocking on elderly neighbours’ doors, asking for them to pay their share of any & all bills that come our way.

    I’m going for a lie down now…

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  • An Lot 2.0

    Adventures, Freelance PiecesComments (5)

    On January 24, 2016 • By

    As I posted on facebook last week, BBC Alba have given the go ahead for a second series of An Lot, but before I talk about that, I suppose it’s time for me to get some of my thoughts down about the first series.  I can’t believe how well it’s gone down, so many people have given me great feedback over the past few weeks, more than I’ve had for any other programmes I’ve ever done.

    For me, the most important thing was that it came across as natural and was a true reflection of what things are like here, and on many other crofts.   A lot of that is down to the vision the director, Neil Campbell, had from the beginning, and also the editing skills of Paul Duke.  MacTV were really easy to work with over the 18 or so months of filming, and I think the whole process was helped by the fact that there were a few crofters involved from the production side of things.  It all works well when folk ‘get it’.  My worry was, had it been a different production company, that they would have come with the story they wanted to tell already in their minds, and would have wanted me to play up to stereotypes – that wouldn’t have worked and wasn’t the case.

    I think the whole family came across very well.  We are all big characters and I think that showed.  The typical response since broadcast has been referring to ‘Poor Innes’. I don’t feel sorry for him!

    Oh, and for EVERYONE who keeps asking, the song over the closing titles is ‘All I Have’, by Bart Warshaw – I love the song!

    On to series two then. We’ve had an initial chat about it and plan to start filming around lambing time.  I’m not sure when they plan to broadcast this series, but I’m sure the slot series 1 had was brilliant, being over the festive period.  We shall see.  Filming in series 1 started in July 2014 and finished in early December 2015, so there was loads and loads of material to choose from.  This series will probably mean a little bit more planning – despite that being something I don’t do a lot of!!

    Keep watching this space!

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  • Lamb meat boxes

    Adventures, AgricultreComments (4)

    On January 24, 2016 • By

    Who fancies some Air An Lot lamb?

    Over the past few years, I have sold some lamb meat boxes locally, but this year I am looking to expand.  I am offering to deliver lamb boxes to Inverness or Glasgow.  Obviously it is months away and the lambs are still to be born, but I hope to get some orders in advance, to allow me to plan a trip!

    If you are interested and want to find out more, please drop me an email info@airanlot.com

     

     

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  • A Boaring Day

    Adventures, Agricultre, birth, PigsComments (0)

    On January 1, 2016 • By

    I have had pigs, on and off, over the past 6 years. Usually just weaners for the freezer, but over the past year I have been gearing up to having my own breeding stock.

    I kept two females that were born in spring 2014 and added a 4 year old sow that was free to a good home in spring 2015. Because of the restricted opening of our slaughterhouse (Aug-Dec) I wanted to have any piglets that would be ready to go in the autumn, so I have held off with a boar until now.

    I have been on the lookout for a boar for a couple of months, and had some options, but then a 3 year old Gloucester Old Spot became available for sale locally this week, and I was fortunate enough to get in there first.

    I saw him yesterday (Hogmanay) and went to pick him up today. This wasn’t as straightforward as I had hoped. The boar isn’t keen on trailers and it took us around an hour to get him in!

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    We had taken the roof off the trailer, to encourage him in, only for him to jump straight back out!!

    Take 2 wasn’t too bad, but this time we left one of the sows that was with him in the trailer, until we got the roof on. We had to strap it down as well, as he kept lifting it!

    Anyway, it was a 10/15 minute drive home from Borve, and he went straight in with my own pigs.  It didn’t take him very long to settle in. Less than 5 minutes, in fact….

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    I know there will be a certain Councillor in Callanish that will appreciate that photo!

    That should mean piglets in 3 months, 3 weeks and 3 days, from 1st January, so around 25th April, I think.  There are another 2 sows in with them too, which will come into season over the next 3 weeks.

    Yesterday, I prepared extra sleeping accommodation for the boar. We’ll see how he takes to it. My neighbour James came down with his chainsaw to cut a doorway in an old oil tank. All systems go now!

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  • Boys lifted, girls out

    Dog, Rams, SheepComments (2)

    On January 1, 2016 • By

    The rams have been in with the ewes since the 7th of November, so the boys had been doing their thing for 45 days, before being taken out on Boxing Day.  Sheep have a cycle of around 17 days, so each ewe should have cycled at least twice in that time.  I’ll be keeping an eye out for lambs from the beginning of April.

     

    With all this in mind, I gave the ewes a once-over, drenched them, and put most out on the moor.

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    They all got a drench for Liver Fluke – the biggest sheep killer I have – and moved onto fresh ground.  After problems over the past 2/3 winters, particularly in the hoggs (last year’s lambs), I am drenching the ewes every 6 weeks and the hoggs every 4.

    I had 82 ewes at the rams this year; mainly Blackface and Cheviot, with some crosses too.  All the Blackfaces and those Cheviots and crosses which are suitable were then walked out onto the moor.  About 65 in total.

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    It’s about 1.5 miles out the back road, across the main road and out the peat road to where I leave them

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    They sheep are out on the open moor here but don’t stray too far from the glen which has plentiful supplies of grass, heather and shelter.  The crofts are so flat and exposed, they have next to no shelter from the gales that hit us in January and February, they also have very little grass left on them at this time of year, and can also harbour things like liver fluke.  Being out on the moor solves a lot of these issues.  image5

    I also take out mineral licks, which provide the sheep with the nutrients they need but which they don’t get from the poorer grazing out here.  The licks also provide the added bonus of keeping the ewes where I want them to be.

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    Back at home, the remaining 18 are between my parents’ house and Cross School.  Plenty shelter and a bale of hay to keep them happy.

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    In this photo, there is a wee cross gimmer on the right hand side (nearest to the camera, with the dark face), she suffered majorly from fluke in early Spring. I thought she was a goner, as she went about a month without standing, but has made a great recovery.  I can’t wait to see how she does this winter.

    And while the ewes are all set for the toughest 6 weeks of the winter, both in terms of their pregnancies and weather, the boys are recovering after their year’s work.  They’ll be pampered a little more than the ewes just now!

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  • Drenching Hoggs

    Adventures, Dog, Lambs, Medicine, SheepComments (1)

    On December 13, 2015 • By

    Over the past few winters, I have had some problems with Liver Fluke – specifically in the lambs that I have been over-wintering.  I have spoken to my vet about this on numerous occasions, and this year I am increasing the regularity of my drenching from every 6 weeks, to every 4.

    There are 2 reasons for this: the primary one being that I would like to reduce losses of ewe hoggs to an absolute minimum.  Nearly all my losses in the past few years have been due to liver fluke, a parasite that is transferred via water snails in wet ground, that feed on the sheeps’ liver.  The secondary reason is business-related. This year we have the Scottish Upland Sheep Support Scheme, which means I get paid around £73 for every female lamb from 2015 that I overwinter until 31 March 2016.  As a result, I have kept a couple more females this year, so I want to keep on top of any fluke issues – and prevention is way way better than the cure. It’s better to cut out any liver damage before it happens.

    With all this in mind, I have added an extra drenching in my usual rota.  They were drenched in October when they were dipped and normally they wouldn’t get another one until nearer January, but last week I gathered them and drenched them all.  Since dipping, they have all been out in the village park, so Bud and I went out to get them last Saturday (5th).  The green area is the park, the red line is the route I use to walk the sheep, and the blue is their home for the next month.

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    We took a wee while to get them all gathered, it’s quite a big park with tough terrain, and the 40mph+ winds meant that Bud couldn’t hear all my commands!  He still enjoyed himself.

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    Once in the fank, I separated my own lambs from everyone else’s and gave them their drench, along with a mineral drench.

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    After this, Bud and I walked them home.

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    That’s them now in towards the shore, in a 1 hectare field that has been empty since September.  The hoggs will be here until the Christmas holidays, then I’ll take them closer to home and start training them to eat feed! January and February are the critical months for surviving the winter, so it’ll be make or break then!

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  • ‘An Lot’

    Adventures, Agricultre, birth, Chickens, Freelance PiecesComments (2)

    On December 3, 2015 • By

    Having started filming 16 months ago, we’re now just a couple of days away from the first airing of ‘An Lot’.  I am excited, and also quite anxious. I’m more than comfortable in front of the camera, although this is a little different.  Usually, I am talking about a third party, but not this time.  This time I am opening myself up to the big bad world!

    To date, I have seen (and added my voice to) the first four episodes.  The final two will be completed on Monday, the same day the first one is broadcast.  I am delighted with how they have come together; Director Neil and Editor Paul have done a power of work, while locked away in a studio for the past couple of months.  I think I come across as myself, which is one of the things that I was hoping for, and I feel the series gives you a true taste of what crofting is like; full of highs and lows, not just a romantic image.

    Filming started in July 2014 and follows the arrival of the 300 chickens, ups and downs of the sheep, my family and has plenty laughs. I think the parts with Innes and Martin will make quite a few of you laugh!

    Anyway, the series starts on Monday at 8.30 on BBC Alba.  You can get more info on the BBC website – or you can ask me!  Hope you watch and I hope you enjoy!

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  • Abigail

    WeatherComments (0)

    On November 13, 2015 • By

    I am currently sitting in my living room, cream bun in one hand, phone by my side, laptop open and a headtorch on.  Why the last one? Well we have a powercut.  Abigail came and went and didn’t deliver, although something has obviously affected the power network this evening, as it went off at 5.40 and isn’t due to return until 9pm.

    I may sound a little indifferent or disappointed by Abigail, and I suppose I am.  Firstly, I am glad that it appears no one was hurt as a result of the storm, and that I’m not aware of much damage locally.  I checked things a couple of times last night, but it never came close to worrying me.  I rarely venture outside in a storm, but felt quite comfortable doing so last night.

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    The egg-stent of my damage

    My concern just now is the apparent increasing over-reaction we get from the media, whenever there is a storm forecast.  Last night saw winds hit around the 80mph mark, up and down the North West.  Yes, that is windy, but it’s something we are used to here.  The coverage Abigail got was ridiculous; you’d be forgiven for thinking it was the worst storm ever to hit here. It wasn’t.  The worry is that people are going to start paying less attention to warnings about storms and then potentially be caught out by one.  On the night of the 8th/9th of January this year, we had winds of 113mph recorded in Lewis.  This was the worst storm I’ve experienced (worse for me than the Jan 2005 storm) yet it was classed as an ‘Amber’ warning by the Met Office – the same as last night!  Abigail was probably a combination of it being the first storm of this winter, and the first that had been given a name by the Met Office, hence the media coverage.  What is totally forgotten in all this, is that we had 71mph (unofficial station) wind speeds recorded on Monday, and we have similar wind speeds forecast for this Monday.  I await with baited breath to see what the news declares.

    Anyway, back to my cream bun.

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