Wednesday 21 August 2013

Mating rituals.

Usually goats become fertile at about four to six months old, some breeders mate them at seven months old to kid at one year old if they are heavy enough for their age. Acorn and Hebe will be two years and six months old at first mating this breeding season.

They are seasonal breeders coming into heat after the days shorten; when in early autumn they come into heat every three weeks. Decreasing daylight also brings the males (Bucks) into the rut; they get aggressive, eat badly and stay up late.

As we don't have a buck we have to recognise when the females are in oestrus so that we can take them to the buck at the appropriate time because the heat cycle only lasts for up to 48hrs. The signs are obvious; a lot of tail wagging, bleating and shouting, walking up and down, mounting other goats and a drop in milk yield because of the hormonal changes.

Having seen one heat we can predict the next in approximately 21 days and arrange to take them to a buck, the nearest Toggenburg bucks are at Bridge of Cally a five hour drive away, a bit far for "drive by mating" so we'll have to arrange some accommodation for them. More lurid detail of mating rituals then!

Gathering winter fuel

When you rely heavily on firewood for heating and cooking you have to think ahead. even soft wood needs 12 months to dry and cure outdoors before its sawn, split and stored for burning. The wood delivered today will be burned in the Rayburn ( winter 2014/15) to provide hot water, central heating and cooking. Use it before its cured and you end up wasting heat to drive off the moisture you get tar deposits in the flues and chimney plus a smoky miserable fire and not much heat.

We are fortunate that the Estate sells and delivers firewood locally in five tonne lots but you do need a bit of space to manoeuvre and stack the logs. This year all of the wood was split by hand but as we're getting older the idea of a hydraulic splitter is more appealing. We need a log splitting coop with joint ownership of the machine and operations. All of this necessary handling; sawing, splitting and stacking keeps you warm too.

Friday 16 August 2013

EXCEL for goats : Pia's milk yield

Daily milk yield of goats and cows follows a predictable pattern. Yield reaches a peak usually ten weeks after kidding but can be as early as two weeks in very high yielding older goats.

After peak production yield declines linearly at about ten per cent a month. You can see from the graph that Pia is average, she peaked at ten weeks while giving four litres a day. Of course the graph isn't a smooth curve because we are dealing with biology there are daily variations in food quality, food intake, weather and of course the milker. Pia seems to give more when Dale is milking.... more empathy perhaps or softer hands or both?

If she milks for ten months (300 days) before drying off and kidding again in month twelve; she should have a total lactation yield of about 750kg..... not bad for an animal weighing 60kg. Dairy goats do differ from cows in that they are less affected by changes in the milking routine or between hand and machine milking. Most important they will sometimes continue milking for extended periods; up to three years after first kidding.

Tuesday 13 August 2013

Spot the hen

This week's winner Hebe the goat
My hens are more than free range, they are farmyard hens, they explore everywhere and lay eggs everywhere.  When a wild jungle fowl hen feels the urge to nest, stimulated by her hormones and ovulation, she leaves the flock in search of somewhere secure and secluded it's the same for domestic hens.

This behaviour gives rise to one of the main welfare issues surrounding the keeping of hens in battery cages they just can't act normally, they are totally frustrated. They like to be able to re-arrange some loose material such as straw to make a nest.
Two days ago I found four eggs on the floor of the goat pen and further evidence of how strong the nest urge is. A hen  had been nesting and laying in the hay rack, the goats when they pulled out the hay pulled out the eggs none of which were broken. To get into the hay rack she had to fly up onto the stable door, cross the byre then fly up almost two meters to get into the rack but it must meet her criteria she keeps on coming back.
Secure, secluded and comfortable

In some national newspapers there's a, "Spot the ball competition" a player, a goal mouth and no ball, there's a regional variation of this in Cumbria where the Westmorland Gazette has a ,"Spot the dog" competition; a Shepherd, a field, a bunch of sheep and no dog, you have to put a cross on the dog's nose to win.

Friday 9 August 2013

A feast of local produce

Tony at work
Its been a tough day for me and the poultry since I started at 8.30 this morning. Six 3.5 kg Bresse Gauloise cockerels have been prepared for Kate and Graeme's wedding next month. It took three hours to pluck them then Tony arrived after lunch to do the butchery which converted them to sixty portions of chicken, he's used to large scale quality catering as RSM in the Army Catering Corps.

I've cleaned up the blood, bagged up the guts and left the meat to "hang" for 24 hrs before it goes into the freezer. We are trying to make this wedding feast a celebration of local food too; chicken, eggs, seafood, veg from the community garden, raspberries from my garden and enough home made cheese to give everyone a taste.

Its got to be time for a shower then a glass of  Benromach malt.... slanje!

Wednesday 7 August 2013

Registration of Common grazings and runrig.

Notice of first registration of Ormsaigbeg common grazings
Jon saw this notice in the village today and wondered what it is about.

As a result of the Crofting Reform(Scotland) Act 2010, Registers of Scotland are responsible for setting up and maintaining a map based register of crofts, common grazings and runrig. This notice refers to the first registration of the Ormsaigbeg common grazings and is there to ensure that knowledge of the first registration is widespread and that all interested parties are aware.

People such as landlords or adjacent land owners might disagree with the boundary as registered. They then have nine months in which to challenge the description of the common grazing boundary in the Scottish Land Court.

Runrig (not the band)  as a form of cooperative tenancy existed throughout the Hebrides and the crofting counties. Smallholder tenant communities held strips of ploughed land (rigs) in common and each year drew lots to share them out equably as some would be more productive than others. I assume it must still exist in the Outer Hebrides as its included in the 2010 Act.

Saturday 3 August 2013

Garlic and self-sufficiency

I harvested the garlic in the poly-tunnel yesterday, there should be enough to last until May next year. The garlic crop is the nearest I get to self-sufficiency and Kilchoan garlic is superior to very other variety especially the supermarket stuff grown in China. We produce all of our own eggs and poultry,meat, lamb, milk and soft fruit but this is more an attempt at self-reliance and eating well.

Self-sufficiency would mean  no decent wine, no dark chocolate and using mutton fat instead of olive oil thanks. In any case humans haven't been self-sufficient since they lived off grid in caves with no council tax but plenty of fish, game, fruit and nuts. There was time for idling, sunbathing, swimming and board games using stones.

I doubt if our crofting lifestyles are any more sustainable those of urban dwellers. Just about everything has to be imported with consequent food miles, fuel miles and additional costs for everything. It'll be even more expensive once the Royal Mail is privatised if we get any deliveries at all. We'll have to drive to Ft. William to collect our letters and parcels from a mailbox.

Friday 2 August 2013

More cheese

This week we have made soft curd cheese with garlic and chives (Jacqui), "Kilchoan Crofter" which is now out of the press and maturing, ricotta made from the whey of the Kilchoan Crofter and butter. Pia has been and continues to be highly productive giving around 3L a day. Of course none of this is economic but as I'm retired the opportunity cost of my labour is zero and the artisan cheeses are excellent.

It takes 10kg of goats milk to make 1kg of semi-hard cheese like the Kilchoan Crofter and the average milch goat like Pia will yield about 800kg milk in a lactation, or 80kg cheese. Dave, gourmet, accountant and smallholder reckons an artisan cheese must sell for £25/kg to be profitable. If he's right that's sales of £2000 worth of cheese per goat. Ergo twenty goats should keep me in some style here in Kilchoan with a 20% mark up.

 Here's the snag. We have or soon will have the goat housing for up to 20 goats but we would need a milking
Cheese as it comes out of the press
parlour (£5000), cheese room and store (£10,000) these costs are based on DIY and secondhand kit. Then of course we'd need more goats (£3000) and marketing costs (£??????) and a sum for contingencies so £25000 in all perhaps.