Friday 28 December 2012

The eternal sunshine of the caprine mind

Having spent the last few months making daily visits to Dad's Toggenburg's, I have learned a few things...firstly, that goats are optimists - they smile at all times, in all weathers, about all things: "Oh..look, it's raining!", (smile, bleat, smile). "Oh...look, bramble leaves!", (smile, bleat, smile).

Goats are friendly, welcoming, playful and grateful and no matter how glum I may have been upon arrival, I always feel more cheerful after a visit.

Goats jump, and leap and twist like matter their age.

Goats are foodies and take great delight in selecting the most delicious strand of hay, which they munch and regurgitate with a joy that is far more believable than Nigella's pasta-tasting moans and sighs.

Goats, in short, are happy - and happiness is more infectious than the Norovirus in winter.

Thursday 27 December 2012

A homeopathic remedy for Pia

 Since Christmas Eve Pia the goat has had a watery eye and a slightly inflamed conjunctiva. She probably got a hayseed in it it or was poked in the eye by a stalk of hay. Fay Ogden who sold me the kids, Hebe and Acorn, told me that homeopathic remedies work well with goats.

Kate, my daughter, is a homeopath so she has treated Pia. Today Pia had her eyes bathed and  tomorrow she gets an internal medication if it hasn't cleared up.

 Goats are so much easier than other livestock when it comes to  treatment  just stand still and let you get on with it; they are stoical, trusting and very civilised about it. There's no need for a cattle crush or to wrestle them into a sitting position as you sometime have to do with sheep.

There is a deliberate mistake in this picture..... no blue latex gloves for the homeopath and elfin safety. She did wash her hands well afterwards.

Tuesday 25 December 2012

KC Ducks - Egg laying machines

Its midwinter, cold and dark but the Khaki Campbell ducks just keep on laying. Four ducks are giving me two dozen eggs a week twice as many eggs per bird as the hens. They do eat more of the layers pellets but the eggs are heavier than hen eggs and are excellent when soft boiled, once you get a taste for them. Four ducks should provide a family of four with all the eggs they need at minimal cost because they supplement the concentrates with worms, snails and slugs.

Mac and Zac

Mac the dog is totally at home in Wales. The food is better, central heating is hotter, the garden is bigger and he is now one of a pack of three with Toby the Border collie and Zac the spaniel. He does seem to be putting on weight though.

Sunday 23 December 2012

Our daily bread

Crofting is about producing high quality food for local consumption, in this case my consumption. This is an alternative to the factory loaf and to the too precious bread recipes of TV chefs. You can bake two white loaves with about 20 mins of activity over three hours while doing other stuff like the laundry as this keeps the kitchen nice an humid for the yeast; here goes....Mix together 1200g strong white flour, two teaspoons full of dried yeast, three teaspoons of sugar and three teaspoons of salt. Add 720g water at blood heat together two tablespoons of olive oil.

Knead the mix in the bowl until it doesn't stick to your hands, about 6mins. Time elapsed so far 8mins.
Place bowl in a garbage bag in a warm place until the dough has at least doubled in size.( About one and a half hours)

 Turn the dough out and knock back ( knead quickly for a few seconds). Divide dough into two 1000g pieces and shape to fit bread tins

Sprinkle with flour ( use a tea strainer) and slash with a sharp knife. Cover with the garbage bag and allow to rise again for about 45mins. Another 5 mins of baking activity.

When risen  place in the middle of a hot oven , 250 degrees in the solid fuel Rayburn. Its better to have it too hot than too cool. bake for 45mins swopping the tins around after 30mins if the oven is very hot. Cooking with wood can be a bit hit or miss.

Turn loaves out and cool on a wire rack. When cool put one in a sealed plastic bag in the freezer for Wednesday onwards and start eating the other.

Next time you pass an artisan bakery treat yourself to a fancy sourdough or granary loaf it makes a nice change but its not for everyday.

In total that's about 15 mins and you have spent the rest of the time doing laundry, cleaning or just idling.......simples!

Saturday 22 December 2012

Driftweed from the shore

Photo: Jon Haylett
There's a really useful by product of winter gales like the one raging at the moment....drift weed. The gales and the high tide combine to tear seaweed, mainly kelp, from the rocks and deposit it in neat swathes along the strand at high water mark. For centuries this bounty of the sea has been an essential organic manure and fertiliser for crofts along the sea shore. This "drift weed" rots down quickly, is a good source of nitrogen and potassium fertiliser and numerous trace elements and even hormones that appear to stimulate plant growth.

Because it breaks down rapidly its nitrogen and potassium are leached through the soil or the nitrogen is lost to the atmosphere as ammonia.  For maximum effect fertilising effect it is best ploughed in as soon as possible. But its free so we use it as a mulch for the soft fruit, an excellent addition to the compost heap and it can even be used as a top dressing on hay fields.

Seaweed on the tide-line 3m wide and 50cm deep

The downside is that collection and transport are labour intensive and it contains bits of plastic, rope and rubber boots, usually left boots, which suggests that there's a rather careless one legged fisherman operating out there in the sound.

The last of the 2012 Bresse Gauloise hatching eggs

It used to be that poultry keepers set their incubators or broody hens to hatch chicks around Easter time and perhaps in September for continuity of egg supply. In 2012 people are hatching eggs all year round. This month alone I have sold 14 batches of fertile eggs on Ebay. However the short day length and cold weather mean that the our egg production is cut to 50% of what it was in the summer and it difficult to keep up with demand. So no more hatching egg sales until February when more daylight and warmer weather, perhaps, will boost production.

When a fertile egg is laid the embryo goes into suspended animation waiting for the broody hen to settle down on her clutch of eggs for nearly 24 hrs a day and a steady temperature of 37.5C. This is when the embryo begins to grow for 21 days until it hatches. We can use this period of suspended growth to send eggs around the world if necessary.  The eggs I sell on Ebay are rarely more than three days old because hatchability begins to decline after the egg is a week old. Eggs are stored at ideally 13C, packed in crush proof polystyrene boxes which are then  placed in a strong cardboard box and dispatched by Royal Mail for "Next Day Delivery" in the UK. This works for all buyers except those in Shetland where it takes two days to deliver.

Wednesday 12 December 2012

Goat herding on the Common Grazing

Sunrise over Morven 9.15am
Another beautiful winter day in West Ardnamurchan and so a great day for goat herding. I have a one twenty third share of the Ormsaigbeg, 5500acre common grazing but I can't use it for sheep or cattle because there isn't a fence between here and the lighthouse 10km west. When the common was used by all of the 23 Crofters a Shepherd was employed to keep the livestock within the bounds.  My share consists of eleven sheep, two cows and half a horse. Presumably horses were shared because they were expensive to buy and to keep.

Today for the first time I used my share. Dale ( Pia's owner) and I took the goats for a wander up the hill, grazing as they went. Just as in the Alps in Summer. Its great exercise for the Goatherd and the goats who are better at following to heel than any dog.

When summer comes this could be routine on fine days, a meander up to the two lochs then lunch and a saunter back. Next time they'll have their bells to make the whole thing even more alpine.

Tuesday 11 December 2012

The gloaming

Sunset Ormsaigbeg 4.30pm

Jon Haylett took this photograph of Craigard  last Thursday afternoon as he was walking home. We have had some cold, bright, sunny days lately and they've ended just like this.

Mac the dog

It's ironic that although Craigard is in one of remotest spots in the UK there's a problem with dogs and traffic, right outside the house. About six weeks ago Mac ran out into the road and collided with a car. He could have  been killed but bounced off with only a few stitches needed in his shoulder. After that I was in a constant state of low level anxiety. Would it happen again?

The collision hasn't been the only problem, he has been bored and lonely. There just hasn't been enough for him to do..... a big problem with Border Collies when kept as pets or on this Croft with only 12 sheep. He also loves the company of other dogs, they are pack animals after all. He has a friendly, gentle temperament, he's house trained and quick to learn.

 So what to do for the best?

I'm not quite sure who suggested this in the end; Kate, Rob, Penny or me but he has gone to live with Rob ( my son) in rural Wales where he has the company of two other dogs all day, a secure two acre garden and daily walks with the pack in Delamere Forest. Probably "dog heaven" by comparison with Craigard.

Thursday 6 December 2012

Sheep, hens and shorter days

Sixth of December; it wasn’t light until about 8.15, it’ll be dark again at 4.30 and still two weeks until the winter solstice.  Its raining, I can’t see Mull.  All is sodden, the hens are standing dripping under a tree the ducks are feasting on drookit worms only the goats look happy in their warm dry shed ruminating and belching from time to time. Normally I welcome this kind of opportunity to sit at my kitchen table office with my back to Rayburn doing a bit of writing, domestic admin or book keeping but, today the power is off, I can only work as long as the battery lasts and with only one good eye I need an oil lamp to read stuff.

For the sheep shorter days mean sex on an industrial scale. Eric the tup’s testicles have grown to the size of aubergines just as well really as he has 30 ewes to serve and as they come into heat every 21 days he is busy. Ideally we want them all in lamb to first service so that the lambing period is compact and over as quickly as possible.
Pia the BT goatling is in kid; she hasn’t come back into heat, and will hopefully kid around the end of March. The other two are only seven months old and won’t visit a stud goat until next autumn after the days shorten.

Shorter days mean a holiday for the hens, as day length decreases egg laying falls away until the days begin to lengthen in spring. They need 16 hours of daylight to maintain peak production. This is why commercial battery houses are well lit.  Over the year lit and unlit hens will lay as many eggs just the distribution is different and I want eggs for sale in late winter, spring and summer so it suits me to keep them in the dark. No one seems to have told the cockerels about day length and mating, they are as horny and active as ever from dawn till dusk , but then they are French.

Sunday 2 December 2012

Goat for lunch

Inside the goat house painting unfinished
Apologies if this seems be  a goat keeping blog but its all goat stuff that's happening at the moment, This time last year Lochaber College ( part of University of the Highlands and Islands) ran a goat keeping course here in Kilchoan. A dozen or so people took part. Closet goat enthusiasts  in a community where sheep and cows are the only livestock; even when you can't make any money out of them!

Today the potential goat keepers  followed up with a field trip. We had goat curry, goats cheese flan and goats milk ice cream for lunch then on to Craigard to look at goat accommodation, fencing and grazing and a chance for the goats to inspect the group.

Sunday 25 November 2012

Field shelter for goats

Calf hutch field shelter

Goats aren't as hardy as sheep. A sheep's fleece stays warm when wet and its thick and windproof. Domestic goats are covered with hair that doesn't have the same weatherproof properties if they are subject to cold wind and rain they are susceptible to pneumonia so they need a shelter.

Feral goats are more weather proof because they have a layer of cashmere underneath the outer guard hairs. This is analogous to the "warm when wet" merino wool underpants sold to walkers and mountaineers and not a suitable subject for after dinner conversation.

Cold on its own isn't a problem  goats have central heating, the ruminant digestive system. In the wild they find a cave to shelter and sleep in, years of dung build up on the floor provides a well insulated bed and they are really comfortable. Toggenburgs are probably the hardiest of the domestic goats, in summer they can stay out 24hrs a day if they have a shelter.

We have fixed steel rings to the top of the shelter at each corner so that it can be tied down to the mountain side. I don't want to have to fetch it back from my neighbours croft or the village.

Observant readers will have noticed that the goat on the left isn't a Toggenburg. It's "Pia" the British Toggenburg she belongs to Dale, is 18 months old and in kid.

The field shelter is based on a Canadian plan for a plywood calf hutch. Many dairy farmers rear calves outdoors in portable boxes like this, it is much healthier reducing the incidence of scour and pneumonia. It should be fine for goats if it doesn't blow away.

Monday 12 November 2012

Pia arrives

Pia pronounced "Peeya" arrived in the dark last night from Monikie. She's the British Toggenburg that Dale decided to buy after last week's shopping trip.  As BTs have been selected for milk production over the last 90 or so years she's bigger than the Toggs. Bigger goats generally produce more milk just as Holstein cows were bigger than the Friesians they replaced in many dairy herds.

Pia was mated to one of the Guilden bucks about four weeks ago and hasn't come back into heat so it looks as if she is in kid and due early in April.

She is looking wistfully out of the window; its drier and sunnier on the east coast. Socially she has already established that she's the boss and the two kids have to get into line. We need another pen really otherwise the kids will have a hard time this means  more joinery. During winter they will have to come indoors at night while the field shelter should be be enough protection during the day.

Saturday 10 November 2012

More trees in the landscape

If you look at photographs of the W. Highland landscape taken up to fifty years ago there are very few trees in the landscape. They were felled for fuel and building and I suppose people got used to the treeless view as they have in Orkney and Shetland. I need trees in my landscape so this winter will take advantage of the Scottish Rural Development Programme that grant aids small woodland creation. This is very small woodland, only 0.09ha or 900 square metres.
Craigard around 1950
There wasn't a mature tree anywhere in sight around the house in 1950 when my neighbour Alasdair took this photograph. Since then sycamore, hazel, birch and oak have flourished along the boundary and on the hill behind the house providing shelter, amenity and drifts of dead leaves in autumn.

Craigard 2011

There's still a bare patch ( on the right) behind the house below the Hill Park. If planted it would shelter the house and the hill from the south and southwest.

The proposed planting would merge with the trees on my neighbour's land.
At spacing of 2.5m I'll need 160 bare root trees; oak, birch and hazel. Ash was included in the original plan but with "Die back" disease its not possible to get plants. The main problem will be finding 160 places where the soil is deep enough, spade depth, to plant.

View 2012
View 2052

This is a rather feeble attempt to do a, " before and after" picture. I'll have to learn how to use PHOTOSHOP instead of scissors and paste but you get the idea. Its a big improvement in the landscape and wildlife habitat.

Sunday 4 November 2012

Shopping for goats

My friends in the village, Dale and her partner Rob want to keep a goat but don't have enough land or a building. So I suggested a kind of co-operative venture. They could keep a goat with mine share the expense (pro rata) and from time to time some of the work because keeping goats is quite tying and its difficult to get away.

Yesterday we went looking for an in kid goatling. First to the Guilden herd north of Dundee. Gordon Smith and Gordon Webster have been breeding top quality, Royal Highland Show winning British Toggenburgs and Saanens here since 1971. They had an in kid BT goatling for sale because it is too light a colour for showing. This is "Shorty", not her pedigree name,  lying just inside the gate and looking relaxed. She has been mated and if she doesn't come back into heat she will kid in March 2013.

 After Monikie we drove up towards Glenshee and Denise Ferguson's Toggenburg herd at Bridge of Cally. This is one of her "boys" a model for the original "billy goat gruff" perhaps.
Denise had two beautiful and well grown Togg goatlings ready for mating
After 14 hrs and 380 miles on the road the final decision is up to Dale. Watch this space!

Wednesday 31 October 2012

Murder in the byre

Jon Haylett (Ed. of Kilchoan Diary)  is responsible for the title.  He called in at lunchtime just as the last of the geese was being finished off by two teenage helpers Arthur and Isaac from Sheffield. The geese were eating two bags of feed a month because the grass has stopped growing and they should have been in the freezer a month ago.

 If you are thinking of keeping geese beware. Each morning for the last month or two they have emerged into the grass park goose stepping and screaming, "Sieg heil".... at least that's what it sounds like. They bully the ducks, refuse to go inside at night and have to be driven and they pull pieces off the hen houses. Enough....they had to go...into the freezer for Christmas.

If you do want to keep some geese you might like to know how to pluck them so here goes. Find a barn, garage, workshop or byre, there'll be feathers everywhere. Fix a strong chain to a beam. Kill the goose humanely and hang it at chest level from the chain. Wear a pair of soft grip industrial gloves and start on the back. Grasp a small bunch of feathers between thumb and forefinger and pull upwards in the direction that the feathers lie. Pull them against the grain and there's a good chance you'll tear the skin. It takes ten minutes to do the section from the base of the neck to the tail.                                                 

 Start on the breast being very careful not to tear the skin especially along the sides where there are deposits of  fat.  Carry non round to the back, up to the tail and down towards the head. I don't bother to pluck the wings, its too hard. Cut them off at the first joint, you don't lose much meat and the bird sits well in the roasting pan.

There's always a cover of small downy feathers left that are impossible to pick; you can singe them off with a spirit lamp or blowtorch if you are careful. Now take them into the kitchen, eviscerate them, put them in the freezer and pour yourself a gin and tonic.

Tuesday 23 October 2012

Grass suckers for sale

Another day at the livestock auction this time it was our old "cast" ewes. They are sold largely because of age; missing teeth, infertility and loss of one or both sides of the udder because of mastitis. I once met a Farmer in Hampshire who went out of her way to buy toothless but otherwise fit ewes because they were cheap and she looked after them well enough to make it profitable, she called them "grass suckers".

We  don't get much for them but as my neighbour observed, "its better than having to dig a hole for them if they don't make it through the winter". The Auctioneer's cheque just covered the cost of fuel and topping up the tank. We had a conversation about where these ewes or parts of them end up; meat pies, pet food and possibly ice cream.

There were older ewes for sale who had all of their teeth and two working teats these were bought as "correct" as opposed to "cast" and will probably give the new owners another crop or two of lambs.

Saturday 20 October 2012

Kids go wild on the hill

I brought the kids home in mid July, since then they have lived in their spacious, well ventilated loose bow with daily walks, weather permitting.

Today everything was ready for their release into the hill park.The boundary has been fenced. There's an electrified wire on top because goats like to climb fences. and I have spent the last two days digging up and carting away foxglove plants which are very toxic.

 As  soon as we turned them loose they went wild, running, jumping and whirling around in mid air.

Bouncing around  on the rocks is good for their feet and means less foot trimming for me. They did after all evolve in hot, dry mountains and they haven't lost the mountaineering skills.

After three months of semi-confinement they aren't quite as fit as they might be and they slowed down to a sedate walk with the goat herds. They are actually better behaved than dogs; they come when called, walk to heel and wait while you attache the lead. The dog isn't needed, in fact if he tries to herd them they either ignore him or head butt him

Monday 15 October 2012

Fire alarm ?

If you'd been driving into the village this afternoon you might have thought there was a huge fire. It wasn't smoke, just ground limestone, very dry ground limestone. Luckily there was no wind to carry it to washing lines and parked cars.

Spread at two tons an acre , 4.8 tonnes per ha., for readers in Brussels, it should have a strong neutralising effect on our acid soil for the next five years. This will mean that any fertilizer applied is more effectively used and plant growth will be stronger. The lambs might even grow more quickly.

Lime spreading is highly mechanised as you can see and we could not have done it without the help Elaine and Gillespie Cameron at Millburn who provided the loader, Ardnamurchan Estate supplied the spreader and Angie John did the driving.

Fields on four Kilchoan crofts that don't seem to have had lime applied in living memory are now on the way to being more fertile and productive.

Saturday 13 October 2012

Mink on the move

Early autumn and the mink population is at its peak again, they are on the move looking for territories and an easy meal. Their weakness is their curiosity and they'll enter an unbaited trap if its in the right place and smells interesting.
Ferocious mink

Mink are ferocious. This one snarled, bared its teeth and screamed at me when I was tasking the photograph.

If you keep poultry you can't afford to relax, the hens and ducks have to be shut in their houses at dusk.

Outside during daylight they are relatively safe because most of them can escape but if a mink gets into the house there's no escape and they'll all be killed.

Friday 12 October 2012

Small scale sustainable agriculture and La Via Campesina

Not many people know this....... 70% of the World's population depends on  food produced by smallholder farmers, peasants, fishers, pastoralists and indigenous people; this includes Crofters. Over the last fifty years large scale industrialised agriculture and the food industry have created the impression among consumers that they produce most of the World's food; they don't.

Next week the "Committee on World Food Security" meets in Rome and investment in agriculture will be an issue. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRCD) and the United Nations (FAO) claim that industrialised farming is the solution to world hunger and that large private investments in agriculture are needed.

In reality large scale agriculture hampers small scale production by  reducing smallholders capacity to produce by : controlling markets, affecting rights to seeds, hampering access to land etc. Small scale farming also provides employment, especially for women. In Rome, delegates from the international peasant's movement, "La Via Campesina"( the Scottish Crofter's Federation (SCF) is an affiliate) will argue that food security depends on more public investment in small scale sustainable agriculture and that family farms need protection against the power of corporate agriculture.  I just thought you might like to know this, it is after all your food and your food security.

Saturday 6 October 2012

Intensive sustainable crofting: Lime burning

An old lime kiln at Swordle . Jon Haylett

The lime arrived this week in 1 tonne bags, its finely ground limestone the granules are about the size of sugar grains. The smaller the granules the greater the surface area and the more easily it is dissolved in the soil water.

Agricultural lime used to be even finer.  Historically ground limestone was burned in kilns to make it more readily available to plants. The lime kiln at Swordle (in the picture above) was used to do just this. These old Crofters knew a bit about chemistry.

The chemistry of lime burning

Stage 1
Limestone ( CaCO3) was burned, lets say 10kg and turned by heat into Calcium oxide or quicklime (CaO) and carbon dioxide (CO2) which went off into the atmosphere leaving about 6 - 7kg of "quicklime".

CaCO3 + heat = CaO + CO2

Stage 2
Calcium oxide or "quicklime" (CaO) is unstable as  it readily soaks up water  from the environment. In the process it becomes more stable as "slaked lime".

CaO + H2O = Ca(OH)2

Stage 3
Even slaked lime is not completely stable, it takes up carbon dioxide from the air over time and reverts to its original chemical form calcium carbonate. Our original sample of limestone would weigh 10kg again.

Ca(OH)2 + CO2 = CaCO3 + H20

So why did the people of Swordle go to all the trouble of burning limestone if it was going to revert to its original chemical form?  Well.... the texture was different. During the process lumps of limestone were converted to a powdery, floury form (without crushing and grinding) this dissolved more quickly in acid soils. Quicklime once "slaked" with water was mixed with sand and used as mortar in building before the advent of Portland cement.

When the oil runs out we may have to repair the old kilns as the energy cost of grinding limestone makes the process too expensive. Fraser Darling again!......" a crofting family could dig enough peats in a day to fire a kiln to produce enough lime for the croft".

Intensive sustainable crofting : "The Chicken Tractor"

The "Chicken Tractor" is, I think, an American idea. Its a lightweight portable poultry house without a floor.The hens inside scratch and rake the grass underneath until the vegetation is removed the soil fertilised and then the whole thing moves on a length and does the next bed. You can clear, cultivate and fertilise without any machinery and raise poultry too.

Poultry fold unit

This idea reminded me of the poultry fold units that were quite common when I was a boy. These were used on grass fields or to glean stubble after harvest. They were light, strong, vermin proof and very well made.

Units were moved daily, food and water had to be carried to them and eggs collected but labour was cheap just like here where the opportunity cost of my time is zero as a retired person.

As the poultry moved over the field they ate grass, then harrowed and fertilised the grassland with substantial amounts of poultry manure. My design is 15' x 4' roughly 9 sq yds. In theory two of these units will cover an acre in 263 days about 30 weeks.

 This is very  crude drawing but good enough for the Playboy Joiner to work from. The lighter end with the nest box has a pair of small wheels and the heavy end is capable of being lifted on to two larger wheels for transport. The design of this aspect needs more thought! and advice.

Now for the arithmetic. Hen manure is hot stuff; 4% Nitrogen, 6% Phosphorous and 4% Potassium. balanced for grass production. Fifteen hens produce about 1.8kg of fresh manure a day or 0.5kg of 4:6:4 fertiliser dry matter. OK enough of that.....its a lot of fertiliser and combined with nitrogen fixing clover should avoid the need for chemical fertlisers......we'll see. 

Thursday 20 September 2012

Intensive sustainable crofting - lime

All other things being equal the most profitable farms are on the best soils; soils that are neither acid or alkaline but neutral, soils that are well drained but not drought prone and soils that are deep and well structured. Here on the West coast of Scotland, with few exceptions, we have thin, stony, acid soils in the lowest land classification category. In other words they are not inherently fertile. High rainfall, high wind speed and the short growing season compound the difficulty of growing anything.

Sanna Bay in 1968 shell sand and lime rich machair grassland above the beach
So where do we start if we want to increase production per hectare of grassland or arable?  Soil acidity has to be the first limiting factor. The soil analysis for my hay park shows it to be strongly acid, around pH 5.3  to neutralise it will require 2.5 tonnes of ground limestone per acre. I know, I'm  mixing metric with imperial measures, its my age.

Ground limestone is bulky, heavy stuff and it comes in 20 tonne loads, four times as much as I need. My neighbours need it too so we have ordered a load between us at £42/tonne. Its the distance, 50 miles from the quarry at Ft. William and the narrow roads that push the price up. Historically shell sand was carted up from the beaches but they are protected areas now. The ground limestone will be delivered in 1 tonne bags in the next week or two and applied with a borrowed lime spreader.

We should see an immediate return on the investment with more grazing and higher yield of haylage / silage next year and for several years to come. It doesn't end here. Next the soil needs phosphorous and potassium so that clovers will grow, fix atmospheric nitrogen and make our crofts more productive and sustainable.

Wednesday 12 September 2012

Intensive, sustainable crofting

The World Bank has just announced that in June and July world wheat and maize prices increased by twenty five percent and that global food prices jumped ten percent. Drought in the USA and E. Europe ( climate change induced?), speculation in feed grains (getting rich at the expense of starving brown children) and production of ethanol from feed grains ( it's blended with petrol to reduce dependence on imported oil) have driven the price rises.

"Lazy beds" intensive crofting S. Uist 1930s

Against this background the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that to feed the world in 2030 an increase of 50% in world food supplies will be needed. Smallholder farmers; this includes Crofters, could have a key role in feeding the world by supplying local markets with high quality produce but some big changes in management of soils, crops and stock will be needed to develop intensified, sustainable crofts. Intensification and sustainability need not be mutually exclusive, there is scope to increase crofting's food output without damaging the environment. Its been done before, see pics.
Intensive production of potatoes on lazy beds- Vatersay

The Scottish Crofting Federation has joined the "Food Sovereignty" movement. Rejecting the proposition that food is just another commodity that can be subject to speculation and a component of international agri-business. The movement also supports the contributions and rights of food providers, including; crofters, peasants, pastoralists, fishermen, and small scale farmers who it claims are undervalued and their livelihoods are threatened by industrialised food production.

A "hay burner" at work, no ethanol needed

 At the risk of "turning you off" I want to devote some future posts to how this might be achieved in the  crofting counties. After all the great thing about blogs is, you don't have to read them, they are free and you are free to comment.

The photographs are from, "Crofting Agriculture" by Frank Fraser Darling. I hope they are out of copyright.

Scottish Crofting Federation