Saturday 13 December 2014

Goat packing trainees

Andy the trainee pack goat
My Christmas shopping list included a goat for Gracie and her Mum. You'd think I had enough goats without going 200 miles to get one. This one is different he;s a Toggenburg wether. You might think he'd only be fity for the freezer but he's a handsome chap and Gracies's Mum has plans for him.

During the summer when she was milking people often stopped, leaned on the gate to watch and and to ask about the goats. Kate put the idea to some family groups that it might be nice for them to go walking with the goats. The goats would have pack saddles and carry the picnic, children could rake turns at leading them. There was an enthusiastic response, they all said they'd be up for it.

Gracie trainee packer with Hebe
It's not such a daft idea. In the USA goats are used for packing loads in to high mountain areas where pack horses and mules won't go, scree slopes for example. Castrated males are strong, sure footed and friendly. So between now and June 2015 Kate and Gracie have to train this one, he's only six months old, to carry a pack saddle, to be friendly and polite no " puttin the heid on" ( head butting ) no rearing up and definitely no pick pocketing.

Those of you who have met Hebe will remember she is the goat with attitude and therefore too  unpredictable to meet the public. She is good friends with Gracie though.

Wednesday 10 December 2014

Another day another powercut

Its one of the many costs that come with living in a remote place at the end of a power line that isn't fit for purpose. Its not weatherproof!

For the fourth day running there was an electrical storm around daybreak and the power went off. I am typing this by lamplight. This is only one solution, other ways of dealing with power cuts include a diesel engined generator with a push button starter connected to your incoming power supply. This is the luxury option and keeps everything running.

My own  intermediate / low technology solution includes wood fuel heating, oil lamps and hand milking. Not being able to read The Guardian on line is my biggest frustration. It must be much worse for anyone addicted to social media and E bay.

The low technology solution; a heavy sweater, long underwear and candles or go to bed until the lights come.

Friday 5 December 2014

It must be winter : We started feeding the ewes today

November was mostly dry and sunny shortening the winter by a month
Today it all changed, there's snow forecast and its driven by north westerlies so the ewes have been given their first bale of haylage. We can afford to do this because we ended up with 50% more bales than last year and its all good quality thanks to the fine summer.

Its important that the ewes don't suffer a nutritional setback at this stage. When the tup went in at the start of November they were all in good condition and were all mated in two weeks. This suggests  that
they have a good number of fertile eggs implanted and at this stage we don't want them to be reabsorbed because of nutritional stress so we feed them at bit of oats and haylage. The more eggs shed,
implanted and then taken to full term means a higher lambing percentage; more lambs to sell and more to choose from for future breeding stock.

Lambing percentage ( percentage of lambs sold to ewes mated) is the most important single factor in the profitability of a sheep enterprise.

Tuesday 2 December 2014

Wildcat or house cat

In the 60s the fabulously funny essayist Alan Coren produced a collection of his work "Golfing for cats" with a Nazi swastika on the jacket. He had worked out that the best selling books at the time were about cats, golf and the Third Reich.

The title isn't just to attract your attention; it is about cats (no golf and no Nazis), Ms. Mimi our tree climbing, big game hunting nine month old cat has been attracting attention herself. Is she part wildcat?

House cat haven
As she was bred in Ardnamurchan there's a remote chance that she has some wildcat DNA, way back.

After last week's fox hunt she was stretched out on the kitchen table as the hunters were having their coffee so a wealth of expertise was brought to bear. Her tail is too tapered at the end, the dark ridge of fur along her spine runs right up to the tail, her head markings are too blurred and she is far too civilised.

If you want to know more about the Scottish wildcat  how to identity it and its conservation here in W. Ardnamurchan have a look at

Monday 1 December 2014

Another fox : Another hunt?

Cute but destructive (BeautifulFree
After last Thursday's hunt the hounds were keen to carry on.

They knew more then us another fox was seen yesterday on the Ormsaigbeg common grazing. The hens will have to stay locked up until mid morning until this one is caught.

The hogg that was beheaded by a fox two weeks ago was worth at least £50 and then there is the consequential loss. My trio of Copper Black Marans imported from Germany were killed when the fox ripped the roof off.  They could reasonably be expected to produce at least 100 hatching eggs worth £2 each, more consequential loss after a year of hatching , selecting and rearing.

This clash between livestock farmers and predators has been going on since animals were first domesticated. In Africa its hyaenas and lions, in N. America coyotes and occasionally wolves and here in the highlands its foxes and white tailed sea eagles.

Foxes are by no means an endangered species and the regulations around hunting in Scotland mean that the killing of foxes is as humane as can be managed so I am prepared to shoot them. On the other hand sea eagles are rare and probably endangered in Europe so we have to tolerate them taking lambs from time to time and there is a compensation scheme in places where sea eagles are nesting.

Please note
This type of hunting is done by a bunch of Crofters and Shepherds protecting their stock and livelihoods not a bunch of "toffs" on horseback wearing fancy dress.

Thursday 27 November 2014

Planned and managed neglect : The future for the crofting counties?

This census involves more than counting Crofters. We know that there are roughly 18,000 of us, from the Shetlands to South Argyll. The "Crofting Commission" is more interested in what we are up to!

The Crofting Reform (Scotland) Act 2010 imposed some new conditions on us these are:
  • to be ordinarily resident on , or within 32 km of the croft
  • not to neglect or misuse the croft
  • to cultivate or maintain the croft or put it to some other purposeful use
The forms arrived about six weeks ago, they have to be completed and returned by 16 th January 2015. If the Crofting Commission doesn't receive a reply then any subsequent regulatory applications cannot be processed.

Throughout the crofting counties there are many crofts that are neglected and Crofters who live more than 32 km away, that's straight forward enough. The "purposeful use" might cause some confusion and only three examples are given; caravan and camping site, golf course and equestrian centre all of which are high capital cost, demand driven and seasonal .

If you argue that "neglect" is in fact nature conservation then this neglect has to be planned and managed. Sounds pretty easy. Find a rare bryophyte, an otter holt, eagle nest, bats or pine marten on the croft and it could become an instant nature reserve. My guess is that the census will discover that there are more neglected crofts than purposefully managed crofts and this is a "get out of jail free"! card. But I'm just a curmudgeonly old agricultural fundamentalist.

Monday 24 November 2014

Driveway mating : Exhausting for the driver

Acorn; prim and sedate when not on heat and shameless when she is.
Its quiet in the goat house now but on Friday evening it was bedlam. Acorn a normally sedate goat was on heat; calling, bleating, wagging her tail and mounting the other goats. There was no doubt she was on heat. Last time it only lasted 12 hours so I had to get organized to drive 250km to have her mated as soon as possible. I finished milking at 5.30am and loaded up.

Goats are much more sensible than sheep when travelling in a trailer, they lie down, ruminate and seem to enjoy the ride. Sheep on the other hand stand, push, jostle and shove  they look stressed and uncomfortable.

American goat breeders call this "driveway mating" you load up your goat, drive to the buck's place, unload her (in the drive way) the buck is brought out and mating is over in a few minutes.You load your doe again and set off home. Home at 6.00 pm for the evening milking. Perhaps it is better to own a buck or at least borrow one as we did last year.


Friday 21 November 2014

A fox killed two hens and a cockerel last night.

When I went to let the  hens out this morning I found a dead hen and cockerel and a hen missing in the small poultry ark. The corrugated iron roof door had been torn off during the night.

It had to be a fox. A mink wouldn't be strong enough and a pine marten couldn't have climbed out with a full grown hen.

So! what next?  He will be back, probably tomorrow night when he is hungry, they are highly predictable. I don't have a cage trap big enough, my rifle doesn't have a lamp fitted, it will have to be the shotgun.

This means sitting up during the night waiting for him. There is no alternative because eventually he will come back again and again until he gets the rest even in day light.

At close range the .410 is just as deadly as a 12 bore.

Wednesday 19 November 2014

Good year for honey production

Ms. Mimi was excluded from the kitchen this morning, no cats or dogs allowed  It was time to extract the honey, strain it, bottle it and label the jars. That means huge potential for stickiness on door knobs, floors, worktops etc in fact in can be spread very quickly throughout the house.

Most of the nectar was collected in late summer (August to late September) so there is a high proportion of heather honey in the usual flower mix and this means it doesn't flow very well. Normally flower honey can be spun out of the cells in a centrifugal extractor but heather honey needs to be pressed out.

The honey loaded cells are cut from the frame, put in a muslin bag then into the press.
as the screw turns honey is expelled through the stainless steel mesh sides, down to the trough in the base and then the spout into a sieve and finally a stainless steel bucket.

I always think that buying honey jars before the end of the season is tempting fate so I tend to re-cycle all kinds of glass jars with tightly sealed screw tops. After all its not for sale, its for family use and gifts for friends.

Monday 10 November 2014

Fox dumping - rural myth or "do gooders" pastime?

Urban fox in Brighton (Free download Stockvault)
The things you see when you don't have a gun!

Two weeks ago my neighbour May had her two hens killed by a fox almost on her back door step while she watched. I have lost five hens to a fox in the last two weeks and have taken to letting the hens out later in the morning. Yesterday morning I smelled fox around the hen houses.

Last night I went out for a last look at the animals at 9.15 . There was a fox standing in the road about ten yards away watching me. When I came back with my gun he sloped off up the road. I missed him he was too quick.

This fox is quite tame and regular in its habits its been seen in the fields between 7.30 and 8.30 for several mornings. Is it an urban fox habituated to humans or just a naive youngster?

There have been reports in the newspapers of urban foxes being dumped in the countryside from Dartmoor to Derbyshire and Anglesey but I haven't heard of it happening in Scotland. Who would drive this far from Glasgow or Edinburgh with a stinking fox in their vehicle? They would have to be very dedicated.

No.... its a naive youngster looking for a territory and domestic poultry are an easy meal in the early morning or evening, they don't run fast and can barely fly.

Fox dumping will be confirmed as a  myth when the Daily Mail reports it as true!

Saturday 8 November 2014

Frenzied attack on the ewes? or over zealous marking?

Anyone looking into the hay park this morning might think that there had bee a frenzied attack on the ewes, blood everywhere on at least four of them. Not so! I just used too much red keel. The tup went out among them yesterday and as you know from watching "Countryfile" and listening to "The Archers" its an aid to management if the tup marks each ewe as he mates with her.

Normally these days Shepherds use a leather harness fitted with a coloured crayon over the tup's breastbone but these things are cumbersome and must be uncomfortable. I prefer to use the old method, I mix up coloured powders chalk with cooking oil then apply it between the tup's forelegs with a stick. I was too enthusiastic. That's why it looks like a bloodbath.

Next time, in a couple of weeks I'll change the colour and be a bit more careful.

Saturday 18 October 2014

French Copper Black Marans : chocolate eggs for hatching egg and farm gate sales

Copper Black Marans
We now have a third  breed of dual purpose hens to add to the Ixworths and the Bresse Gauloise hatching egg sales in 2015.

These are French Copper Black Marans, Herman the cockerel was hatched from eggs imported from Germany and his hens came from Hampshire so although they are the same breed there is a huge amount of genetic variation in this new flock.

The cockerels grow as fast as the Bresse Gauloise and the hens lay chocolate eggs. There is of course no nutritional  difference between these eggs and white ones but they are very attractive.

Farm gate sales

Although I bought 20 of these Copper Black hatching  eggs most of the chicks were males  Herman was the best looking, the rest were reared for the pot.

Fresh eggs of any colour disappear from the retail outlet as quickly as I put them out there so more hens are needed.

Thin goat syndrome : Is new computer software the answer?

You can see the difference, Pia in the middle with prominent spin
Pia is thin, not quite a walking hat rack but she is about condition score 1.5 soon she'll be verging on emaciated. The other two, Acorn and Hebe are condition score 2.5, just right for this stage of lactation so why such a difference? Some goats, according to Mary with her 60+ years of goat keeping are, "just always thin".

Pia is a "British" Toggenburg as opposed to a Toggenburg and that could account for some of the difference like the difference between Holstein cows and Friesian cows thirty years ago. The Holstein is an extreme dairy type of animal while the Friesian then was more or less dual purpose, good for milk and good for beef.

Thin goat Pia on the left Acorn on the right
British Toggenburgs are bigger, rangier more wedge shaped, altogether more extreme dairy type than the Toggs because they've been selected for high milk production for generations. So that could account for part of the difference between them.

Pia reared twins to weaning at 12 weeks but then so did Acorn who is well padded but doesn't produce quite as much milk. Is Pia the extreme dairy goat "milking off her back"? In other words is she  mobilising fat to produce milk because she cannot consume enough energy and protein to sustain her yield because of her genetic make up?

This is week 29 of Pia's lactation so input and output of energy should be in balance. Tapeworm infestation is a possibility but didn't show up the last time her faecal samples were analysed.  Johne's Disease is a remote and unlikely possibility so what to do?

Balancing rations for ruminants isn't an exact science even though  50 years ago we did it with simultaneous equations, and then "Pearson's square" method. I was never keen on algebra! But this week I discovered the latest  ration formulation software for goats on an American university website, its usable on-line and its free. So I can check my more intuitive approach to rationing against this "expert system" and let you know the result in a week or two.

Tuesday 30 September 2014

Free tasting of "Kilchoan Crofter" cheese.

According to Dormouse,  saving the labels from the cheese that I ate on holiday means I'm a "Geek".

I see it as further evidence of my love for all things French and cheesy, that's why they are stuck on the cheese cupboard door. Cabecou and Rocamadour, small "chevre" cheeses with distinctive taste and texture from the Quercy region of south central France.

This is the standard I'm aiming for in my cheese making and I'm still a long way off achieving it.

 On holiday I questioned goat farmers, waiters and hotel patrons, "what is it that gives these cheeses their distinctive qualities" the answer was, "le terroir". In other words the environment the soil, the vegetation, the climate and of course the cheese maker's experience.

David and Michelle tell me that my cheese is good and getting better, I believe them, Michelle is French after all and qualified to judge.  Although the "terroir" can't be replicated in Lochaber perhaps I can make a cheese of similar distinction if I persevere.

If you are passing call in and try it. It's a free tasting because I don't meet any of the regulations and so can't sell it and I value your opinion. If I was French and living in France ( the most civilised country in the World) I would just ignore the regulations and sell it anyway.

Sunday 21 September 2014

New Ixworth genes

After a failed attempt last year to start a new flock of Ixworths with hatching eggs from four different breeders I am trying again. Last year's attempt failed because of inbreeding. The birds in each flock supplying eggs were too closely related. This is a common problem with rare breeds, only three eggs hatched out of twenty four.

New stock and new genes
Last week I exchanged a pen of three Bresse Gauloise hens and a cockerel for two Ixworth pullets and a cockerel. Fergus Morrison has maintained two distinct families of Ixworths, the pullets are from one and the cockerel from the other. The result of this mating should be that the eggs are fertile and the offspring more vigorous.

It meant a 200 mile round trip to "Drum"  (Drumnadrochit) on referendum day (I had a postal vote) the road was festooned with "YES" placards. Sadly we will have to store them for the next time, which might not be too far off if the government in Westminster fails to keep its promises.

Slow!......Children and animals

My house and the croft buildings are on opposite sides of  an unclassified road, its narrow and visibility isn't good. Despite this the national speed limit applies, sixty miles an hour!

Four times a day we cross the road with goats, before and after milking.

 Hens rake about the verges doing "traffic calming" and now my grand daughter is walking and crossing the road, albeit under supervision.

From time to time we have a drove of sheep crossing from the hill and down to the fank ( sheep pens).

Most drivers approach the buildings with caution, some don't. Time to do something about it so I have put up a weatherproof warning at one end and a hand lettered notice on a black board at the other.  The black board was a lot cheaper but the yellow and black looks more authoritative.

Monday 15 September 2014

Dude crofting 2::The Dude and the ragwort

You may remember back in May we were providing recreational opportunities for the metropolitan elite with "Dude Crofting".  You might think after seeing the photograph that this was an audition for the remake of, "Deliverance" its the hat that does it.

Today we had Alasdair digging ragwort, he even brought his own ragwort fork to uproot them. He did an excellent job and even bagged them up afterwards.

It was pointed out to me a couple of years ago that ragwort is a much misunderstood weed. People will tell you that its "notifiable" ,you have to report it to DEFRA or SGRPID, its not and you don't. This mythology arose early in the last century when a merchant was successfully sued by the owner of horses which died as a result of eating ragwort in the hay that he supplied.

It can be toxic when dried and eaten by horses but some Dutch research concluded that a sheep or a goat would have to eat its own bodyweight in ragwort before it died. This would be highly unlikely because the material is so bitter and unpalatable.

We'll continue to uproot it in the hay park but I'm not too worried about it elsewhere and it is an essential plant for some of our rarer moths.

Saturday 13 September 2014

Quadcopter over Craigard

Is it a bird......?
Mike and Alasdair are at Cruachan this weekend with the latest aerial photography gizmo, the "Octocopter" a remote controlled drone. They are surveying the Ormsaigbeg landscape and its archaeology.  The goats were fascinated by this little aircraft as it buzzed around the croft at high speed about 50' above the ground. Images are transmitted back to Mike's hand held control box and display screen.

They stood together watching and snorting, slightly alarmed. Did they think it was a rather noisy goat eating bird of prey perhaps? Then I thought,
Crigard Croft from space
no! they are too intelligent for that they are just fascinated by high tech gizmos and the antics of the humans that come with them.

The hens took cover immediately but of course they are bird brains.

Tuesday 9 September 2014

Its the "Terroir"that makes the difference....Goats cheese and the environment

I think it was General de Gaulle who claimed that a country with 900 different cheeses was impossible to govern. I am just back from A walking holiday in France where we were tasting some of those 900 cheeses.
Alpine and Saanen goats in their "Chevrerie"
On the limestone plateau above the Dordogne river they make some remarkable cheese under the generic title of "Rocamadur" . These are soft "chevre" type cheeses with unique flavour and delicious texture. So why can't I make cheese like this I asked?

The responses were always, "le terroir", in other words the total cheese making  environment; its what the goats eat; herbs, grasses, shrubs and good herb rich hay. Then of course there is the experience of the cheese makers and the storage conditions. Basically they were telling me you no chance of making anything like this in Scotland.

I'll just have to persevere. The fall back position is that if there is reincarnation I'm putting my name down now to come back as a an "eleveur des chevres" and artisan cheese maker in southern France.  But I'm told I'll have to work on improving my karma or I'll be back as a cockroach.

Tuesday 19 August 2014

Firewood sawing and splitting for the elderly

I used to enjoy splitting logs by hand especially ash and beech that split easily and with a satisfying,"crack". But I'm older now and the wood is different; gnarled, twisted and knotty,  spruce mainly.  The maul just bounces off it, or is it me?

We elderly wood burners have been saved by Finnish engineering. Its a petrol engine powered circular saw and log splitter. It arrives at your log pile and splits a tonne of logs an hour.

Previously a tonne of logs took me the best part of a day. All you are required to do is to hand the logs up to Hughie who operates the machine.

The log is placed upright in a steel box that is pushed forward on to a screw that drives into the wood followed by a wedge....then presto......the log splits and is thrown on the pile....simples.

Tuesday 12 August 2014

"Rations for livestock"

Fifty years ago every undergraduate studying agriculture, every agricultural advisor, every feed compounder
MAFF Bulletin 48
and many farmers had a copy of "Rations for livestock" Ministry of Agriculture Bulletin No.48. It was, and still is a mini encyclopaedia of materials that can be fed to livestock. It was essential if you were formulating rations especially for dairy and beef cows.

I had to dig mine out yesterday.

Alistair and I went to the new Glenborrowdale Distillery for some "draff" or distillers grains. During the distilling process the carbohydrates in the malted grain are used to make alcohol the grains that are left over are richer in protein and fibre than barley, about 18% protein and 15% fibre. I know this because I looked it up in Bulletin 48!

If the wet grains are ensiled the draff keeps quite well and is an excellent feed for cattle to supplement low protein barley or oats. If the sheep and goats will eat it it could be added to their winter ration. We've excluded the air to ensile it by putting it in plastic bags tied at the neck.

If the sheep will eat it; it doesn't look very appetising , but cattle like it, mixed with bruised oats it should  give as a ration that is considerably cheaper than proprietary sheep nuts and just as good.

To get an idea of how effective this ration will be I have to estimate how much haylage, draff and oats a sheep or goat will eat in a day. This is a percentage of body weight,
Then estimate the energy content, protein content and digestibility of each ingredient and see if it meets the animals requirements.

All of this estimating makes me sound like an economist but it does work if you apply the information in Bull. 48.

Bulletin 48 is long out of print and out of date in many respects because we no longer have a Ministry of Agriculture or politicians who think that UK agriculture is important. They'll find out one day that its vitally important and they were fools to think otherwise.

Sunday 10 August 2014

Little red hen does it again

In the last two years the little red hen has hatched and reared about six batches of chicks and ducks.

This time there were four chicks from six eggs. They are Ancona bantams, black with white flecks the floppy red combs.

Originally imported from Italy in the 19th Century the large fowl version lay over 200 eggs a year and the bantams are reputed to be just as prolific. Friendly little birds they are good hens for the back garden. These are for my grand daughter.

Saturday 9 August 2014

Starlings raid the hen house.

If eight rabbits eat as much as a sheep and eight sheep eat as much as a cow how many starlings eat as much as a hen?

I stopped the rock pigeons eating half of the hen food by putting the feeders inside the hen houses.

But starlings are more inquisitive, more daring and perhaps hungrier. They are helping themselves to high energy, high protein layers pellets every day.

I've seen  a flock of more than twenty perching on one hen house roof. They then take turns to raid the feeder. Even the robins get in on the act.

A hen eats about 125 g layers pellets each day and perhaps the ratio is the same; eight starlings to a hen so 20 starlings eat about 300 g hen food a day at roughly 50 p a kilo.

It can't go on ! I'll have to devise or buy a bird proof feeder.

Sunday 3 August 2014

Meet Mimi the kitten

Hard wired to sleep on top of the Rayburn
A picture worth 1000 words, what can I add?

August in the poly tunnel : Gherkins are taking over

I thought that gherkins would be difficult to grow but they are taking over the poly tunnel.  There should be a huge crop for pickling.

Salads are always easy, reliable and only ten minutes from the tunnel to the plate.

A second crop of perpetual flowering strawberries are ripening (Mara des bois ) a cultivar of the alpine strawberry with superb flavour.

Tomatoes are turning red and the garlic bulbs, harvested last month, are ready to bunch up and store, they usually keep for ten months or more.

Now its time to start again with winter salads, chicory, lambs lettuce and a few early tatties for Christmas.


Friday 25 July 2014

West Highlands too hot for goats

More comfortable in the shade
This evening I have kept the goats indoors, in the shade. Its seven o clock and 28 degrees.

I love it but the goats are suffering; their tongues are lolling out, they are panting and drinking enormous amounts.  Its strange when they were originally domesticated in hot arid mountain regions , they thrive in the deserts of Arabia and make a major contribution to animal production in the tropics.

But in the 6000 years since they were first domesticated goats inhabit just about every climatic zone from the Arctic to hot tropics. It must be that different breeds have become  acclimatised to these  regions. Some Indian research that I turned up showed that Indian goats sweated at up to nine times the rate of Saanen goats when kept at the same temperatures.

Of course it won't last there is rain and wind forecast for tomorrow when they'll want to stay in because of the wet cold.

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Hay making - a tough time for voles

The hay park grass was cut on Monday and baled today (Wednesday) a result of our hot, dry and sunny weather.

This year there are 15 bales out there compared with only 11 of much inferior stuff last year.

As soon as the mower enters the field  birds arrive, herring gulls, black backs, hoodie crows and buzzards, they are all after voles. I f you watch for long enough you'll see them all get what they are after.

Vole heads Must be a delicacy for hoodies. I watched one hunting the hay swathes in front of the kitchen window last night it stalked through the grass, head bent, listening. When it struck its head came up with an impaled vole.  It ate the head then carried on hunting.  Perhaps its the vole's brain is small but highly nutritious? Hoodie crows should know,  they are among the most intelligent and highly evolved birds.

The next job is to paint smiley faces on the bales to keep the gulls off them then fence them off to keep the sheep and goats off.

Saturday 19 July 2014

The North Face

The CIC hut below Tower Ridge
There's usually a mountaineering epic prefaced by , The North Face" . Not this time.

Thursday was a day off from milking so walk up the Allt a Mhuillin (Mill burn) to the CIC hut below Ben Nevis was in order. It wasn't much more than a stroll but  It does  take you into the heart of some spectacular mountain scenery below the North Face.

The path through the Forestry Commission woodlands is so well engineered and has such a good surface it wouldn't be out of place in the quad of an Oxbridge college. It took me two hours to get up and an hour and a half to get down; the perfect afternoon daunder.

The CIC (Charles Inglis Clark) hut sits in a sheltered hollow below Tower Ridge. Clark died in WW1 in Mesopotamia, now Iraq.  his parents had the hut built in his memory.

There is a charming black and white film of the opening of the hut at Easter 1929,. The assembled mountaineers are mostly wearing celluloid collars, ties, tweed jackets caps and trilby hats.  Take a look you'll enjoy it as much as the walk,

Friday 11 July 2014

Can you identify this mobile milking machine?

Earlier this week we were given a mobile milking machine. It has the manufacturer's decals on the bucket, "SAC".

Here it is sitting in the workshop
 SAC is a well known dairy engineering company in the Netherlands so it must be well designed and built but I have no idea of the model name and number. We need an operator's manual and a maintenance manual can you help to track these down?

It has obviously been standing in a weatherproof byre or workshop for some time it covered in dust and grime, some of the taps are seized but otherwise it looks in very good order. I want to get it running.  There is a down side to machine milking, it costs more, there's more washing up to do, machines go wrong, parts such as liners need replacement and the goats have to be trained to accept it.

On the plus side milking machines are cleaner and quicker, my hands are getting a bit arthritic and I like the sound of the machine chugging away in the early morning. So get it going and give it a try. If it works we could  use the existing milking stand but put it all in a much cleaner miling parlour at the end of the workshop. Sounds like a good winter project.

Update:  The SAC agents in England sent me copies of the operator's manual and the maintenance schedule, thank you.

Clipping and dipping

You could see the relief on the ewes faces yesterday after losing their 4 kg woollen overcoats when it was 25 C in the shade. Hughiie took them down to his big shed to clip, too hot outside and he's all set up for it in
Its back breaking work

Only one wasn't clipped next year's fleece hadn't risen to separate the old from the new wool so it will have to suffer in the sun, it was the latest to to lamb so that could have something to do with it.

Years ago we dipped the sheep to control insect pests. First there were the organochlorines like Dieldrin, very effective but disastrous for the wider environment.

Then came the organo-phosphates, slightly less damaging to wildlife but there were nasty effects on the people doing the dipping. You had to immerse the sheep in the bath by pushing it under this resulted in lots of splashing on to humans .

 The wool had to grow back for a week or two before dipping so that there was something to hold the chemicals. All of that is over. Today it was a simple task  of pouring a measured dose of systemic insecticide along the mid line of the ewe's  back. Its similar to the stuff you use on your domestic cats and dogs for fleas. Much easier and safer as long as you where latex gloves.

Friday 27 June 2014

Pia, Hebe and Acorn teach about goats : Goat husbandry course Kilchoan Learning Centre Saturday 13th September 2014

Hebe, Acorn and Pia
If you would like to learn about goat keeping our three goats will teach you, here in Kilchoan on Saturday 13th September 2014.

This one day course has been organised by West Highland College, part of UHI (University of the Highlands and Islands).

At the end of the day the goats, with some help from me,  will have taught you about, breeding, feeding, health, handling, welfare, behaviour and overall management. This will equip you to start keep goats mainly for milk but also meat and fibre production.

Goats are not too keen on a classroom environment and can be as as disruptive as their students so most of the instruction will take place in and around the croft, bring waterproofs and wellies. We'll have lunch in the kitchen when you can sample some goat products. You'll get a chance to milk, trim feet and do other practical stuff. There are only 10 places so if you want to find out more or to book a place contact Pat Glenday. or 01397 874260


Wednesday 25 June 2014

Crottin de Kilchoan : How to make it

One of the best light meals in France is green salad with "chevre chaud". The chevre is a small round soft cheese with a grey wrinkled rind a bit like a brain. As its my favourite cheese I made some today.

Cheese draining in crottin moulds
Sanitise all of the tools and pieces of kit in a chlorine bath, I use Milton tablets one to five litres of water. Put the utensils back in the bath after use.

Take ten litres ( two gallons) of goat's milk and pasteurise it. Soft cheese is a great medium for mould and bacterial growth! Heat it slowly to 72C in a double boiler, the cheese bucket inside the jam pan. Once it gets to 72 hold that temperature for 15 seconds then plunge the bucket into a sink with cold running water to get the temperature down to 32C (inoculation temperature) as fast as possible.

Air drying aftyer brining
This is artisan cheese making in the kitchen so the measurements have to fit the kit available. Add an eighth of a teaspoon of mesophilic culture then the same amount of Geotrichum candidum, stir then leave to ripen for an hour.

Dilute your rennet (instructions on the label) and dilute in a quarter cup of water add to the milk and stir for a minute.Allow to coagulate for an hour. Its ready when your finger moved up through the surface leaves a clean break in the curd. Cut the curd with a sterilised bread knife with passes half an inch apart and full depth of the curd. If you don't have a curd knife  to cut horizontally cut at an angle with the bread knife.

With clean hands stir gently three times over ten minutes then allow the curds to rest for ten minutes.

Home made "cave"for affinage
Ladle the whey off the top into the crottin moulds. You can make these from yoghurt pots punctures with a hot wire or needle. Fill the moulds to the top because it shrinks dramatically. Stand the moulds over a roasting tin on a wire cooling tray. After half an hour turn the moulds over, slide the contents out on to a plate or saucer then pop the cheese back in upside down. Do this two three time more before leaving to drain until tomorrow morning.

Next morning the cheeses should have shrunk to a third of their original volume. Slide the cheeses out of their moulds and put them in a pan of saturated brine for 20 mins. After brining put the cheeses back on the wire tray to dry for two hours.

The cheeses need to be stored as closely as possible to 13C with the humidity at 80%. Turn them over every three days, they should be edible after 4 to 6 weeks. Wrap them in cheese paper and sore in the fridge. Simples.......

Tuesday 24 June 2014

Kids go to a new home

Strange new experience
Rowan and Willow the two brothers born in early March have gone! Their new home is nearly 50 miles way at Clovullin just this side of Corran Ferry. Ann their new owner and goat herd wanted Rowan for mating with her females this Autumn and Willow his brother (a wether) went along to keep him company. First time in a livestock trailer and fifty miles of bumpy road are stressful enough without doing it alone. ?Then there's the new goat house, new environment and strange shaggy old goats to contend with. Willow will be coming back unless Ann decides she want home too.

They look a bit forlorn but they soon be used to it

The problem is I don't have a job for a wether goat and with a family of vegetarians the freezer is out of the question. The Victorians had them pulling lightweight carts for children so Gracie might be in luck.

Sunday 22 June 2014

Snow buntings on Ben Nevis

Summit view to the SW
Every May and June there are few days when the "Ben" is clear of cloud, its windless hot and sunny. On Sunday night the forecast was perfect, it was my week off from milking goats and I needed some exercise. Several hundred others thought the same.

The view from the summit (1,303m ) has to be Britain's finest mountain panorama. As highest in the range and Britain  all of the other peaks are  below you.

 I think I was the only one there who
Free image downloaded from the internet.  I told you my camera was crap.
noticed the snow buntings flitting around the summit snowfield . When I pointed them out no one was really interested just a polite smile as if to say, "so what"?

One of Britain's rarest breeding birds, that's what!

People were still heading up at six in the evening when I was down to the Glen Nevis path they wouldn't be on top until after 10 pm.

Monday 2 June 2014

Outwitting the kids with a waste proof feeder

My goats have two faults......They are forever plotting to outwit me in order to eat the new  hedge or to open gates that should be shut . Don't ever think they are secure if you tied up a gate or hurdle with baler twine they can undo knots in a flash.

 Secondly they waste food by standing in an open topped trough and fouling the contents with their feet They are too picky to eat anything that they have stood on or trampled. 

 Hay wastage I'm still working on but I have now outwitted the kids with a new design of concentrate feeder.

There was a picture of a similar feeder in the British Goat Society Journal. A heavy duty plastic container with two goat head size holes cut in the side and then suspended from a rafter.  an old teat dip drum might have been better but this was all I had and it works a treat there's no waste at all.