Blog

  • Highlights

    Adventures, Agricultre, Cats, Chickens, Lambs, SheepComments (2)

    On February 22, 2015 • By

    I am going to post a selection of my favourite photos from the last month or so. I can’t wait for spring, the extra hours of daylight will be a big help – as will some grass growing!

    Gizmo wanting in

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    Returning a lost ewe to the flock

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    More repairs to the portacabin. Still awaiting payout from my insurer.

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    Hungry Hogg

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    Swollen eye

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    A couple of visitors

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  • Scanning

    Agricultre, Lambs, SheepComments (0)

    On February 22, 2015 • By

    I’ve been a little light on posts here recently, mainly due to them taking a little longer to write, and time isn’t something I have a lot spare of!

    Things have been very busy since I started selling the eggs but that’s not what this is about, this is about scanning!

    A couple of years ago, I posted about an extremely poor scanning and there you can see pictures of how it’s all done. We have the same setup every year, but fortunately this year was a little better for me.

    Scanning is arranged by the Lewis & Harris Sheep Producers Association, of which I am a member. The scanner comes over from Aberdeenshire and blitzes 7,000+ sheep in a week. At around 75p (ballpark figure, not sure what it is this year) per sheep, that’s a profitable week for a scanner!

    My sheep went through & I had mixed results. Most of it was ok, but I was very disappointed that 3 of my best sheep were empty. I had put them to the Zwartble ram lamb, as a wee experiment, but 3 of the 5 he had were empty. It’ll be interesting to see if he left anything in the other two, or if it was the work of the other rams that covered him.

    I had results of 130%, which is ok, although I’d rather closer to 150. What I mean by percentages is that 130 = 13 lambs out of every 10 sheep.

    I have now started feeding, all in anticipation of lambing starting in the last week of March – I can’t wait!

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  • Entrails

    Agricultre, Chickens, death, PoultryComments (6)

    On January 26, 2015 • By

    Don’t look any further if you are squeamish or easily offended.

    I was cleaning out the hen house earlier today and was just spreading the new wood shavings when I noticed a hen dragging something behind her. Her intestine….

    The other hens were pecking away as I lifted her up, and the entrails, and took her down to the barn. Unfortunately it was a total mess around the rear, so I culled her.

    Not nice. Anyone know what causes this?

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  • Hens & eggs

    Adventures, Chickens, eggs, PoultryComments (2)

    On January 23, 2015 • By

    Just under 4 years ago, I got my first three hens. Today, I’m not aware of anyone in Lewis, possibly the Western Isles, with more than me.

    I remember when I was wee, asking my parents if we could get hens, but being told no as the mink would kill them all.

    The mink are now long gone (due to SNH eradication scheme) so that meant no ground predators here, just as had been the case.

    Anyway, my first three hens came by accident, almost. My cousin Erica was recently married and was building a house with her husband. She had 4 hens at a house they were renting, but there wouldn’t be space for them at her new house. So, in early 2011, I took them on. Unfortunately one had been run over, so it was only 3 of them that made the journey to Ness.

    Here they are, 4th April 2011

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    I don’t think any of those ones are still with us, but 2 weeks later I got a cockerel. This was him when he arrived, and he’s still strutting his stuff!

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    Slowly the numbers started creeping up. People who got no longer wanted their hens started leaving them with me and before I knew it, there were 45 hens!

    18 months ago, I moved them all into one largish hen house but by then I had already made up my mind to go bigger.

    I had seen a gap in the market for local eggs and kept meaning to give it a go myself. I was selling eggs at work and covering all my feed costs, so knew it wouldn’t be a loss.

    Around this time last year, I decided to change the way I worked. After 10 years on committees and supporting local community groups, I decided to take a step back and help myself instead. I’ll go back to the community stuff at some point in the future – when I have the time, energy and patience. In the meantime, I just wanted to do my own thing, so I just went ahead and ordered 320 hens.

    They arrived in July and I have been soldiering on with them since then, until this week. After months of selling eggs privately, things finally came together this week and I got into the shops. I had registered with the Government back in the summer and had an inspection in September. That was all fine but I couldn’t get into the shops until I got my labels and environmental health gave the the all clear, which they did this week.

    After a sleepless night on Sunday, I got through my inspection at the first time of asking and got eggs into the shops within minutes! This has been one of the most hectic and exciting I’ve had a a crofter, and it’s given me a taste for more!

    My eggs are now available in the two Ness shops, Swainbost & Cross, WJ MacDonald in Stornoway, the shops in Tong and Point, as well as the Community Co-op in Leverburgh, Harris.

    Make sure you buy some eggs!

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  • A spot of recycling

    Adventures, Agricultre, Lambs, SheepComments (1)

    On January 23, 2015 • By

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    This lovely load of tyres is on its way to my crofts, to (hopefully) provide some shelter for my livestock.  I have flat open crofts, with zero shelter and have decided to try something different.

    On this trailer are 30 bales of tyres, weighing over 20 tonnes, to be spread out amongst the crofts that I have and use.  This will provide shelter for the animals and also not be blown away like sheets of corrugated iron!

    I applied to SEPA for a Waste Exemption Licence and received the bales free of charge from the council.  I think the council get a landfill tax rebate, as the bales are diverted from landfill and put to a good use.  Basically everyone wins!

    They are being dropped off tonight and placed on the crofts tomorrow.

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  • Late night birding

    Adventures, Chickens, eggs, Freelance PiecesComments (0)

    On January 15, 2015 • By

    The last two nights have seen a lot of late night hen house action. Being back at work means that I have to do most of the croft work either before or after work. Being a night owl, the mornings are a last resort!

    Fortunately my father is looking after the sheep this week, so *all* I have to do is tend to the hens.

    Because the weather has been so poor the past week, the hens have barely ventured outside. This means that they are eating A LOT more feed. I usually fill the feeders once a week, with around 18 bags. This week’s 18 bags lasted from Saturday until Wednesday! Another 15 taken up then, in the pitch black.

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    Tonight was even worse, sorting out eggs and collecting them from the hen house in 60-75mph winds! I was extremely concerned I was going to get caught by some flying debris!

    Anyway, all done for the evening and preparing for heading to Aberdeen in the morning. Doing a spot of filming there and then back home on Saturday morning – all weather permitting.

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  • Worst storm I’ve experienced

    Adventures, Chickens, death, Lambs, SheepComments (6)

    On January 9, 2015 • By

    I am totally exhausted just now. The last 30 hours have been non-stop tension, fear and worry.

    After getting everything tied down last night, I went to bed around 11, with the wind gusting around 70/80mph. I slept until 1.47am, when the wind woke me. This was the last sleep I would get until 5am, when I slept for a couple of hours.

    The power went off around midnight and is still off now. I was up and around the house numerous times during the night and I was so so worried that the hen house would be damaged. As well as the obvious impact it would have on the hens, it would be financially disastrous for me – my eggs are literally in that one basket! (It is insured, but that’s not the point!)

    In the middle of the night, this was the sight that greeted me from the back door – the ‘skin’ on the roof of the portacabin torn to shreds.

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    After checking the roof was intact, the hen house was next stop. Fortunately it survived the storm, although there are possibly some issues with the doors, which will be inspected properly after the weekend – as long as it survives tonight and tomorrow. I found one hen dead outside, she must have left it too late to head back inside last night.

    I had some damage on the roof of my house, slates missing and flashing torn, but not too bad.

    The sheep I had moved to the front of my house had a lucky escape, with sheets of metal gouging out chunks of earth right between them

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    The lambs didn’t fare so well though, 2 dead with another apparently in shock. It’s inside and doing a lot better now.

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    After moving the lambs to a more sheltered field, I saw the carnage that had been left – and that was only in 2 of the 15 villages in Ness.

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    Shipping containers and skips blown over, houses stripped of slates and thousands of pounds worth of damage to the church.

    In my own village, this boat was flipped – despite being anchored down with blocks and tied to two fence posts, which were ripped out of the ground. It usually takes 6 of us to lift that boat!

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    I’m in now and totally exhausted. I’ve been worrying and tense since 3pm yesterday and felt a wave of relief when I sat down at 6pm tonight. I just hope that everything makes it through the night ok.

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  • Hatches battened down

    Adventures, Agricultre, Chickens, eggs, SheepComments (1)

    On January 8, 2015 • By

    Finally sat down and had my dinner after coming home early to get ready for the storm that’s about to hit us.

    Last night, this is the forecast that we had for Fri/Sat (this is from xcweather, the site I use almost exclusively)

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    96mph, which usually means that we will have gusts over 100mph. The weather station that was formerly Eoropie Tea Room has been relocated to my village, so should be interesting to see what it reads. I’m pretty sure it’ll be over 100mph. In the past few hours though, the forecast seems to be dipping ever so slightly, so I’m hoping it won’t be as bad as feared – but still very very bad.

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    Because of this, I came home early from work today, to make sure everything was as secure as it could be. On Monday, I put the blackface sheep out onto the moor. They are hardy and can find plenty of shelter out there. As you can see from the picture, though, there is absolutely no shelter on the crofts.

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    So I went to take the Cheviots back from the field they were in at the bottom of the croft, and leave them in front of my house for the night, where they can shelter. That was supposed to be a 5 minute job, until I noticed the rope on the gate had snapped (probably in yesterday’s mini-gale) and the sheep had disappeared!! Fortunately, they came when I started calling them, they had gone down to the shoreline – probably the worst place for 100mph winds straight off the Atlantic!

    They followed me all the way out, nearly a mile, and I treated them to some feed in front of my house.

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    Everything else tidied away, bins put in the barn and peats taken in. One more job was to check the hens. I am pretty sure the hen house itself won’t move, but I am concerned about the roof. One section tore away in December but hopefully the repairs will see out the winter and then I’ll replace it with box-profile.

    One wee issue has been wind-driven rain coming in under the ridge. This is because the roof has a shallow pitch, so wind doesn’t have to fight gravity when pushing rain in. I think I have plugged most of the holes with expanding foam

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    Now I’m in by the fire, all gadget fully charged, torches to hand and ear plugs by the bed. Hope I sleep, although worry and wind will probably keep me awake.

    One thing is that I bought a generator this week and it’s sitting in the back of the pickup, at the back door, ready to be put to use if (or probably when) the power goes out.

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    I just hope the hens are all ok in the morning!

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  • CCAGS

    AgricultreComments (0)

    On January 5, 2015 • By

    Tonight I did something that I’ve never done before; I wrote the following letter to the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Richard Lochead. I must be getting old!

    A’ charaid choir

    Bliadhna mhath ur an toiseachd. Like many crofters, I today welcomed the opening of the new CCAGS scheme, which provides a vital mechanism for active crofters to make capital improvements. I was, however, dismayed when I realised that CCAGS applications would now require three quotes.

    Previously, CCAGS had a very sensible rule that meant that an application for funding of less than £2000 required only one quote. For some reason, this was removed in the past two years and all applications required two quotes.

    This inclusion of a third required quote provides crofters with an additional layer of, in my opinion, unnecessary administration. Crofters already have to deal with European, UK and Scottish Government paperwork and this bureaucracy seems to be never ending. In my own experience, it is the most active crofters who apply for CCAGS, and it is the most active crofters who have the least amount of time to deal with additional, unnecessary paperwork.

    As a crofter, I have recently completed an economic survey (the findings much celebrated by the Scottish Government) and also the crofting census. I will shortly receive my annual Sheep census form and then my IACS form. This is an additional level of bureaucracy does little to encourage people to remain in crofting, or young people to enter into crofting.

    I believe that this will have a negative impact on crofting, and on crofting communities. As well as discouraging applications, I believe there will be a negative social impact. Crofters are often part of small, close-knit communities and guidelines drawn up in an office fail to take this into account.

    If a Crofter is applying to CCAGS for some fencing, those is small communities tend to know who will carry out the work before they apply. Three fencing contractors must be approached, but contractors 2 & 3 already know that they will not be carrying out the work, should it be approved. Why would a self-employed contractor be willing to waste more of his (unpaid) time providing quotes for work which he will never carry out. This will have nothing but a detrimental effect on small communities. For items such as fencing, SGRIPD staff already have guideline rates for work, so quotes are almost identical anyway – further waste of time!

    I request that the scheme for one quote for applications under £2000 be reinstated, and that all other applications return to a two-quote requirement.

    I would also like to know where the requirement for a third quote came from; my understanding, following a discussion with a civil servant, is that there is still uncertainty as to whether European funding will be used to pay for CCAGS, so I take this to be an internal Scottish Government decision.

    I look forward to your reply

    Leis gach dùrachd

    Dòmhnall MacSuain

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  • My thoughts coming into a new year

    Adventures, Agricultre, Chickens, eggs, SheepComments (1)

    On December 21, 2014 • By

    As the year draws to an end, I have been thinking about it a lot in the past few weeks.

    2014 didn’t get off to a good start for me at all, as I felt some backlash, both locally and nationally, for arranging the world Guga eating championship. Afterwards, I made a conscious decision to move away from community-involvement and focus on my own plans. I had been involved in numerous community groups over the past 10 years; Ness FC, Social Club, Comunn Eachdraidh, village Grazing Clerk, Ness Golf Club & the Community Council, but decided to focus on my own plans after this.

    And focus on them I did. As soon as lambing was over, I ordered 320 hens. The thinking was to provide some kind of sustainable income from the croft. The sheep and everything else washes its own face, but I needed something that would make a decent profit. Having done the sums and spoken to shops, I decided that hens were the answer.

    Another big step was at the end of June, when I reduced my hours at work. I now work 3.5 days a week, having every Monday off, as well as every 2nd Friday. This has been invaluable during the winter, as I’d have no time to get anything done otherwise.

    There are plenty folk who were trying to convince me to work full time or who thought I was crazy in doing it, but I have always been of the opinion that work is there to fund life, life isn’t there to sit in an office. Work to live, not live to work. I know what I want to do and 18 months of hard work will get me where I want to be.

    The hens arrived at the end of July and things have gone well since then. They started laying semi-regularly by mid-September. Things have been ticking over since then and I hope to hit the ground running by the end of January.

    There are loads of things going on behind the scenes too, but I can’t share all of those quite yet, as things are at a sensitive stage. I cannot wait for 2015 though, I know it is going to be my most successful, profitable and happiest year as a crofter.

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