Monday 30 September 2013

Diet selection by domestic goats on a really nice day

I have instructions from Dormouse to slow down, take siestas and idle. Today was ideal idling weather," Indian Summer" so I took the goats up the hill. They do need a leader....Me. Otherwise they just lie about in the sun chewing cud. If I set off up the hill they follow and discover a wonderful smorgasbord buffet of vegetation which they can't resist. They eat more than they would have done and Pia gives more milk, more in.... more out. Yield is largely determined by intake of energy.

When I stop to sit down, they stop and start grazing / browsing whatever is available, when I move they move until I stop again in a new patch of grass or shrubs. Lying on dry heather in the sun is a good time to observe their grazing behaviour. This afternoon they ate, common rush, yellow flag iris leaves, bent grass, red fescue, Yorkshire fog, mosses and lichens and some that I must have missed.

There's a PhD in this for someone, field observations while lying

in the sun, with the wind rustling the grasses and goats contentedly eating. The lab and statistical analysis could be done in a warm place in the depths of winter... the title, " Herbage selection by domestic goats ". I'll have to see if there are any references.

Eco-friendly hatching egg packaging

Eco-unfriendly packaging
Hatching eggs are normally posted in polystyrene boxes like those on the left, the two halves are taped together and the eggs are just about 100% safe from crushing even by the Royal Mail.   But polystyrene is nasty stuff it takes years to break down in the environment and its energy intensive to produce.  There didn't seem to be any alternative until I did some research after the postal charges increased.

Eco-friendly packaging
Royal Mail define a "small package " as not larger than 165x165x165mm. It is possible to get strong cardboard boxes of this size that will take up to 12 eggs nested in biodegradable packing chips. The chips are light weight and dissolve in water, they are shock absorbent and insulating so I am trying it out on my hatching egg customers, no complaints so far.

The box can be re-used to transport day old chicks or other stuff  as it is strong enough and well ventilated. The customer does have to open the box carefully.

Sunday 29 September 2013

Mating rituals Pt. 3 : Meet "Drumturk Raffles"

Drumturk Toggenburgs
We did a twelve hour round trip to Bridge of Cally yesterday to collect "Raffles" a male Toggenburg goat. He traveled well with  stops to see how he was doing and to give him some water. On the whole he was quite relaxed considering it was his first trip in a livestock trailer. His breeder and owner Denise showed us her herd including this year's kids and a new very good looking male born this year.

A 2013 kid and Mum

Mating should be effective and timely. Artificial insemination is only about 60%  effective and expensive when semen, hormone treatment, Vet's time and transport are all added up. Raffles offspring this year are good looking kids from high yielding mothers.

He had enough of traveling when we got home and dragged me out of the trailer and into the shed. We had backed up to the door as a precaution. This morning when I brought the girls down from the hill for milking he snickered and whinnied but they totally ignored him....girls! Now, Sunday lunchtime
he has settled down, eating rosebay willowherb, some hazel leaves, hay and coarse mix so he must be reasonably happy.

Thursday 26 September 2013

A Highland Wedding Pt.2 : The Bride arrives on her horse

The Bride arriving in style

I'm late posting part two.

The wedding was on Saturday and now its Thursday. Kate and Graeme were the central characters of course. they worked hard to organise everything. It was a community effort; the food preparation, marquee erection, hall decoration and preparation, loan of the horse and looking after Gracie. ....

 Then there was the clearing up; the marquee, the party and after Finn the horse.

 The band, "The Peat Bog Fairies" with Graeme on the keyboard were a tour de force. Now we want regular live bands in the Community Centre.

Kate and Graeme

A lovely ceremony, a great party and happiness all round.

Tuesday 17 September 2013

A Highland Wedding Pt.1

Kate & Graeme dressed for the occasion
My parents got married in London to avoid this. In rural Perthshire during the 30s and even today as far as I know it was a real blackening of the Groom's wedding tackle with melted boot polish. Father's sense of humour didn't stretch that far and like many others he took to the hills for a few days. The Kilchoan version is more civilised, throwing flour, porridge and eggs ( shop bought I hope).

Part 2 on Sunday after the party!

Saturday 14 September 2013

A Community Mapping Exercise

We, the Crofters of Ormsaigbeg Township got together today in the Community Centre to produce a preliminary map of out croft boundaries for the new Croft Register. Most of the boundaries are obvious; dry stone walls, fences, streams, roads and the sea. but the map is complicated by decrofting of plots, the demolition of parts of some walls or no concrete boundary features at all. When I cam here five years ago there was no obvious boundary between me and my neighbour to the east. Luckily we decided to fence the boundary and surveyed an agreed line ourselves along the route of an old turf dyke and up to a steel cart axle planted long ag as a marker in the northern boundary. All I have to do now is fix the position of the fence by measurement on the ground and then transfer this to the map.

Registers of Scotland provided a 1:2,500 scale map, we overlaid this with tracing paper and then invited everyone to draw their boundary if necessary consulting neighbours or elders who have lived here all of their lives. Two hours later we had the preliminary map which showed where some boundaries needed to be fixed by measurement and where more discussion between neighbours was needed. At the next meeting in a week or two we should be able to complete the final plan for submission to ROS (Registers of Scotland).

 Anyone with an interest in the Ormsaigbeg croft boundaries can consult the map during a nine month period. If there's an objection any dispute will be settled by the Scottish Land Court. Hopefully that won't be necessary.

Monday 9 September 2013

Two day "Crofting Induction Course"

SCF (The Scottish Crofting Federation) is running a 2 Day introduction to crofting course in the village. Read on if you are already a crofter, if you are interested in getting a croft, or if you just want to find out more about how crofting works.  This course is free to young people under the age of 18, or anybody who is claiming benefits.   It costs £50 if you are a member of SCF, and £60 to everybody else. You can also pay the fee with an ILA. 

Field visit to the hens

Normally these induction courses are run as night classes over several weeks but this is an opportunity to do it in a weekend. If you live in Lochaber, London or Sheffield you are welcome to join. The course will take place over a single weekend, 19th / 20th October.  Starting at 9.30am on the Saturday morning and running through to the Sunday afternoon.

 The course will cover:
·         Crofting – Past and Present
·         Land Management
·         Crofting Livestock
·         Animal Health and Welfare
·         Wildlife Habitats and Landscape
·         Croft Business – Finance and Marketing
·         Croft Diversification (Forestry, Renewables, Tourism)
·         Crofting Support Mechanisms
There will be several field visits to crofts in and around Kilchoan each with a different approach to crofting.

John Mackintosh, a Lochaber crofter with many years of experience will introduce the course..  He will hand over to Alan Boulton who runs Huntaway consulting, but in the past he has worked as a shepherd, a deer stalker, a ranger naturalist, a forester and an estate manager.  Alan's current clients include crofters, farmers, Scottish Government agencies and conservation organisations.  He has previously delivered a wide range of rural skills and Crofter training for West Highland College. 

To enroll contact Pat Glenday Email:

Thursday 5 September 2013

Mating rituals pt.2 - Too many choices

The days have been shortening for nearly seven weeks so the the three goats; Pia, Hebe and Acorn will be coming into oestrus soon and they need to be mated. Choices have to be made.

Gorsefield Cyrus:Toggenburg Buck
Natural mating or AI? If we go for natural we either have to take the goats to the male when on heat or bring a male here on loan. As they are unlikely to be on heat together that could mean up to three round trips to Perthshire on Skye for "drive by mating" then home again. Taking a male on loan would only mean one trip to collect him and to return him home. However males can be a bit obstreperous and smelly. On balance I think we have to bring a male here for six weeks..

Artificial insemination on the other hand means access to the very best genes in the UK and possibly the world; at a price. First we have to decide on which sire and order his semen for delivery to the vets. Then the vet has to insert intravaginal progesterone sponges  to kick start the oestrous cycle, these are then removed after about 18 days . The AI procedure is done  two days later.

Laproscopic AI involves placing the semen into the horns of the uterus; the goat has to be sedated and then put into a cradle for this. It means taking the goats either to Edinburgh or some intermediate place when the Vets are working, usually on pedigree sheep. The costs stack up quickly; semen, progesterone sponges, the procedure, the Vet's time and the transport. One last plus or perhaps a minus is that we'd have all of the kids on the same day if fertility was 100%. Usually its only 60%.

Wednesday 4 September 2013

"The Lochan Shepherd's Hut" : Live off grid.......

Live "off grid" without TV, WiFi and neighbours. The Shepherd's hut is ready for its first visitors; complete with double bed, wood burning stove, solar powered lighting, kitchen and composting toilet. Neighbours include corncrakes (May / June), otters, ducks, geese, herons and sheep across the road.

Mornings can be a little noisy  because of the cockerels up at the croft but most of them will be in the freezer by next week. Otherwise the only sounds are the waves, the wind and thrushes beating snails to death on the roof..

Ben Hiant and Kilchoan Bay are framed in the doorway while the loo window overlooks the Sound of Mull , Ben Talaidh and the Morven peninsula.

There's a good supply of dry firewood to fuel the wood burner and to keep you cosy. Ideal for a reading, walking, wildlife or idling weekend or week.

Unfortunately...... there is mobile phone reception although you could just leave it at home; or in the car if you can't bear to be parted.

For more information go to