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.