Tuesday 28 January 2014

New genes for the poultry flock : Black, grey and white La Bresse

Black La Bresse
There has been steady demand for my white Bresse Gauloise hatching eggs during the last three years and the surplus are sold in the village or at the gate. Twenty hens have produced a bigger margin in that time than the sheep unless you count the the "Single Farm Payment" and the "Less Favoured Area Supplement" as earned by the ewes.

To maintain the genetic variation of the flock I have to bring in some new genes, in the past this has been from Ireland. France and Germany. This year its Germany and I have ordered eggs from Ralf  Jakob in Gutersloe. I am wondering if I should also import some black La Bresse eggs.

Scarcity and rarity is attractive to small domestic poultry keepers and as far as I know there aren't any black La Bresse hens in the UK. I did bring some back
Grey La Bresse
from Burgundy in 2010 but they were all killed by a mink. Keeping two breeds complicates life, they have to be kept apart in the breeding season and this means more fences and housing.

On the other hand there could be strong demand for fertile eggs and it would entail a trip to France to get them as the only source I know of is in Burgundy where these photographs were taken.

Sunday 26 January 2014

Mountain weather today in the W. Highlands will be "Appalling!"....Its official

At six this morning the wind was hurling buckets of rain against the bedroom window. The sheep and goats are snug indoors but the hoggs are still out, I had to move their trough into the lee of a wall or the feed would have blown away. Back indoors with the coffee on and the kitchen temperature wound up I took a look at the MWIS (Mountain Weather Information Service) to see what its like on the tops.

Its not that great at sea level   Photo by Raptor
It's the first time I've seen a forecast begin, "Appalling!" it then goes on to predict, "storm force winds gusting to 100mph, continuous rain at low levels, heavy snow drifting at higher altitude with extensive whiteout".  Obviously not a day for collecting Munros or even walking at sea level.

In a normal winter we expect a few of these storms but, since the end of October gales, rain and cloud have been continuous with, I think, only three dry sunny days. We are all in danger of going mouldy, getting SAD (Seasonally Affected Disorder?) and trench foot. If the Editor of Kilchoan Diary is reading this on a beach beside the Indian Ocean we could use some sun, sea and sand posts to brighten things up.

Saturday 25 January 2014

Why drive 300 km to collect hay?

On Thursday I made a 230 mile (320km) round trip to collect hay, the fuel cost alone almost doubled the cost from £3.25 to £5 a bale. So why do this, why don't I make it myself?

Hay making, Torridon 1940s
Writing about crofting agriculture during the 1940s Frank Fraser Darling observed that here in the W. Highlands, " haymaking is heart breaking". He goes on to point out that what appears to be a simple enough operation, reducing the moisture content of grass from 80% down to 16%, using sun and wind, is in fact the most difficult and risky business of the Crofter's year.

The quality and quantity of hay conserved determined the numbers of stock that could be carried through the winter of even the amount of milk to drink. He went on to say, " the time will come in this part of the world when hay making will be as common as cattle reiving (stealing), and just about as up to date". Well that time is here the last time hay was made on this croft was probably in the late 60s.

Mowing for haylage 2013
You need six good, dry, preferably sunny days to make hay successfully. Before internet 10 day forecasts I used to subscribe to a Meteorological Office hay making forecast, you got a telegram if there was a 6 day dry period on the horizon. As now it wasn't always accurate. Even on a small scale its a highly mechanised process now, you need a tractor, mower, turner/swather, baler and trailer. The cost of all that would outweigh my cost of transport from Glen Urquhart.

We rely on neighbours the Camerons who have the machinery to make "haylage". This is halfway between hay and silage, it comes in half tonne plastic wrapped bales and it can be made in a couple of good days.

Goats prefer hay, good green well made hay and they are probably more susceptible to listeria picked up from silage than are sheep, that's why I drive 230 miles to collect it.

Thursday 23 January 2014

Bringing home the hay

Commando Memorial and the Aonach Range
Freshly baked bread, newly ground coffee beans and well made hay are the best smells in my world. Today I spent four hours in a highly perfumed camion bringing hay back from Glen Urquhart. I go up there every two or three months to collect some of the best hay in Scotland for the goats.

Ian Wilson's hay is made on upland permanent pastures it contains at least four or five different grasses and a whole excursion flora of herbs, the goats love it. You need six dry, sunny and preferably breezy days to make good hay. Six dry days here on the west coast are hard to find, like hen's teeth. That's why we make big bales of haylage, partially fermented grass that is pickled and can be harvested after two dry days. Goats are traditionalists, they prefer good hay.

Ben Resipol today from the "Corniche"
It isn't a chore driving up to Ian's beautiful farm in the hills above Loch Ness, its a day out, up the Great Glen under the shadow of Ben Nevis and the Aonachs, alongside the Caledonian Canal, then up Loch Ness and into Glen Urquhart. A mile or two after Drumnadrochit I swing into the steepest single track road in the country to Ian's farm, "Auchternarach"( you have to practice the pronunciation).

I should also mention the drive home from Salen along Loch Sunart ( the "Corniche") its so beautiful there should be a toll paid for driving those 20 miles.

Some others travelers, particularly Dormice, have a different view of this road and claim that they lose the will to live after and hour of narrow, twisting death defying motoring.

Sunday 19 January 2014

Dark days, low clouds, rain and gloom......it can only get better!

Tomorrow the third Monday in January is, "Blue Monday"; said to be the most miserable day of the year. Its the aftermath of Christmas gaiety, gluttony and gross over expenditure combined with dark days and the prospect of two more months of winter.

Real free range, there's nothing like a dung hill!
After nearly three months of cloud, rain, gales and gloom on the edge of the N. Atlantic, six degrees West of Greenwich and a tad North of Moscow we residents of W. Ardnamurchan can, I think  be excused for feeling a bit blue. But animal spirits are rising........

There has been a 500% increase in egg production, I got one on New Years Day, yesterday there were five. The ewes in their luxury winter accommodation are happy eating a bale of haylage every five days, out of the weather and free of footrot. On Wednesday there was an hour of bright sunshine so I turned the goats out to run, jump and skip on the hill. Winter lettuce has made some growth in the poly tunnel, snowdrops are poking through and the Robins are fighting. 

Thursday 16 January 2014

Via campesina in Brussels : Campaign for the rights of farmers to use and freely exchange their seeds and breeding animals.

 Via Campesina is the International Peasant Farmer Organisation of which the Scottish Crofting Federation is a member.

The European Parliament will be voting next week on legislation which could restrict the rights of farmers (and Crofters) to freely exchange seeds and breeding animals. In other words to have unrestricted access to crop and animal diversity.

Multinationals in the crop seed business want to control the market , patent seeds and animals. These multinationals are pressuring the EU Parliament to cancel the recognition of farmer's rights to exchange their seeds and to only allow the marketing of recognised registered varieties as a prelude to controlling the world market in patented seed varieties.

On Monday, January 20th 2014 at 13:00-Place du Luxembourg, in front of the European Parliament Via Campesina is organising a demonstration against this proposal.


Weighing goats: A dressmaker's tape and arithmetic.

Its just over a year since I weighed the goats so it time to do it again. They will need dosing for worms and in order to know how much to give them I need their weights. I explained how this is done without weigh scales ( they are very expensive) in November 2012, "How to weigh a goat with a piece of string". I have moved on since then and bought a dressmakers measuring tape in the village shop.

Pia's vital statistics
This method can be applied to cattle, goats, sheep and pigs. Goats are the easiest because they will stand still and are not too big. So first secure your goat in a head yoke or get a friend to hold it still on a halter. Pass the tape around the abdomen just behind the shoulder blade and over the fore ribs, this is the "heart girth". Then measure from the pin bone to the point of the shoulder. All of these measurements are in inches!

The maths next; multiply the girth squared by the body length and divide by three hundred. This gives you the weight in pounds because the formula was designed for Americans. In Europe and the rest of the World divide the pounds by 2.2 to get the answer in kilograms.

You can now work out how much wormer your goat needs. However, most wormers are licensed for use in sheep not goats. the market for goat medicines is so small that the pharmaceutical companies don't test for goats and use is, "off label" on veterinary advice.

Because food passes through the gut twice as fast in goats as in sheep you need to give double the sheep dose per kg, body-weight for the medicine to be effective.

Their weights as calculated by the above method are; Pia 71kgs, Acorn 68kgs and little Hebe 53kgs.

If you don't give the correct dose there is a risk that you will encourage resistance to the wormer in the worms. Too much is wasteful and potentially dangerous.

Tuesday 14 January 2014

An," Integrated parasite control strategy" : Sheep and goats, worms and flukes.

Indoors and free of new fluke and worm infections but its only temporary
All grazing livestock; cows, sheep and goats are all infected with worms to some extent. A heavy worm burden and poor nutrition will kill the animal. At lower levels of infection growth rate and milk production are affected.

Infective worm larvae are ingested with herbage, the larvae then attache themselves to the gut, suck blood, reproduce and shed eggs in the faeces. The eggs develop to the infective larval stage and the cycle is repeated. For the last 40 years we have been able to control the problem with drugs and grazing management. But now worms have become resistant to many of the drugs and we have to work out a worm control strategy for each individual farm that minimises the resistance problem and gives effective control. Its a headache because so many factors have to be taken into account. Commercial goat milk  producers keep their animals in yards year round because of the risk of infection and the need to withdraw milk for consumption for up to eight weeks after treatment.

Our, "integrated parasite control strategy" begins with housing. Once the ewes have been indoors for 5 or 6 weeks all of the immature flukes should be in the liver and can be killed with a flukicide. They won't pick up any more until they are outside again. In late pregnancy the ewe's natural immunity to worms is low and the worm burden increases so we will worm them just before lambing. The goats will be wormed as they kid.

Same parasites
That covers January until April. The next eight months, when the ewes are out grazing, are more complicated and difficult to plan for.

Goats and sheep are hosts to the same parasite species but because the goats tend to browse rather than graze the herbage they ingest is higher up and less likely to carry infective larvae.

An important part of the strategy will be to do faecal egg counts (FECs) for the goats to make sure that dosing is really necessary.

Sunday 12 January 2014

Red deer from the hill; the hard bit is after the shooting.

Shooting a deer is the easy part of venison, then the work starts. It has to be brought off the hill, skinned, hung, cut into useable joints, packed and frozen.

This morning with his set of super sharp knives, Tony Prewett gave me a butchery demonstration. He converted two carcasses to freezer packs of steak, hock and haunch in two hours with minimal waste.

They were two hinds, part of the annual deer management cull that goes on until mid February. No trophy specimens these just healthy lean meat for the next twelve months.

Friday 10 January 2014

After the storms : A haircut, groceries and ironmongery

MV Raasay arriving in Tob
During the last two weeks of 2013 we have had eight storms, up to and including Force 8 and a gust of 97mph on the north coast. As a result I missed out on my three monthly haircut, a number two, shopping at the Coop and Brown's Ironmongers in Tobermory.

Today was relatively calm and dry so a good day for the trip across the sound. Its only five miles and 35 minutes but in winter the small ferry MV Raasay takes over, its basically a big tank landing craft. Its half the size of the summer ferry with a rock n roll ride whatever the weather. On the plus side; our over 60s bus passes work on the ferry so we get to Tob free of charge.  From time to time we see a pod of dolphins, a sinister looking warship, stone boat or pleasure craft.

 You may be wondering what this has to do with crofting?

Its just that we are at the end of thirty miles of highly scenic but bad road. The 110 mile round trip to Fort William uses 15 litres of diesel in the camion or is three hours each way in the bus which
Tob, the main drag
is free to people with white hair but my white head is spinning at the end.

You have to weigh up the weather and what is really needed.

Fort William for livestock feed, auction mart, dentist  and building supplies, Tob for haircut, groceries, nuts and bolts and lunch at Cafe Fish ( Easter until September)

Any shopping, tooth repair and hair cutting has to be accomplished between goat milkings during ten months of the year so Tob is often the easy option.

Thursday 9 January 2014

The Russian Dacha : Self reliant food production and country living

If you like a scary read, try Stephen Emmott's, "10 Billion". Emmott is head of Microsoft's computational science lab at Cambridge (UK) his research shows that by 2050, less than 40 years from now, there will be at least 9 billion humans on the planet. It's 200 pages of quite large print. I read the whole thing on the return ferry trip to Tobermory.

Emmott's message ;  we are destroying our global resource base and appear to be totally complacent about it. If we don't do something about it, we are, in Emmott's words, "fucked".

He does offer a solution;

" In short, we urgently need to consume less. A lot less, radically less. And we need to conserve more, a lot more."

It is predicted that demand for food will double in the next forty years. But we are already using all of the Earth's agricultural land and there is no known way of feeding 10bn people with our current patterns of consumption and farming systems.

Here's my partial solution; eat fewer livestock products, meat, eggs, dairy, grow and eat more vegetables.  Why? because there are, for example, nearly 60bn cattle on earth and 60% of agricultural land  is used to feed them.

The Russian Dacha small scale farming and self reliance
Russian rural idyll

When I went to Moscow in 1998  to manage an EU Technical Assistance project in the Russian Ministry of Agriculture I was surprised to find that nearly 50% of agricultural output came from domestic plots, "dachas" in the countryside not far from the big cities. From early May until the start of winter there was a mass exodus from Moscow on Friday nights to the family dacha in the countryside. On Sunday nights the "Dachniki" returned to their city flats with loads of fresh produce.

I couldn't understand how a totalitarian, state controlled economic system allowed this. Country cottages with a bit of land were in fact encouraged by the trade unions in the 1950s as a means of feeding the urban population when the state and collective farming systems had failed to deliver. People were given a plot of usually 600 sq m on which they could build a small single story house. They had a supply of good fresh produce. better health, a place for weekend and summer holidays, banya, shashlik and illegal brewing of samagon (vodka).... result greater all round happiness.

Small scale, personal, self reliant food production on dachas and a shrinking population may put Russia in a strong position to feed itself in future and could  be model for others to follow.

If you want to find out more about dachas Google; Dacha - What does it mean for a Russian?


Wednesday 8 January 2014

Ewes indoors but there's a design fault

The ewes are now inside for the rest of the winter but there are a couple of "bad ass ewes" still trying to escape by wrecking my feed barrier. There is a design fault. I thought that its weight would be sufficient to hold it in place and that the rails were spaced at exactly the right distance to deter escapees. Wrong on both points.

The bottom rail will have to come down by at least 50mm and the trough will have to be secured by driving some rebar rods into the floor in front to resist the pushing at feeding time. Then it should be OK.

They aren't as wild as Blackfaces but they'll take some time to settle down in confinement.

Tuesday 7 January 2014

Sea Eagle on Glas Eilean

Its there... between the two humps
Alasdair my neighbour called me this morning about 11.00am to say there was a sea eagle on Glas Eilean opposite the house. He may be 70 but he's still sharp eyed, even with the telescope it took me a while to find it about 1.5 km away across the bay. living among all of this Wet Highland wildlife you can get a bit blase about it. For example yesterday when we were moving sheep into the new shed an otter crossed the road below us.  But a sea eagle is still exciting.

 After a month  of storms, including a big one last night it was a surprise to see it. Its most likely that it came over from Mull with a strong tail wind. We normally see them hunting the slopes above Ormsaigbeg on bright, sunny windless days often when there's an east wind to help them back across the sound with a lamb.

Its between the two flat topped humps on the island, you'll have to take my word for it.  As the Editor of Kilchoan Diary often points out to me my camera is pretty useless.

Thursday 2 January 2014

Hens are destroying the Amazon rainforest : is there an alternative??

Destroying the rainforest
My mother's hens , sixty years ago, were fed on much the same proprietary poultry mash as mine get today. It was high in energy and about 17 - 18 % protein. The energy came from cereals and the protein from; fish meal, bone meal, meat meal and cottonseed meal.

Now almost all of the protein in layers pellets is derived from soya bean meal because its cheap,effective and isn't derived from animal sources like the stuff that caused the BSE outbreak

Much of the world's soya is grown on land that was formerly rainforest,  ergo my hens are partly responsible for loss of biodiversity...... can anything be done about it?

It's been known for some time that chickens have the ability to select a balanced diet, they exhibit "dietary wisdom". Hens are able to select various feed ingredients (energy, protein and minerals) according to their individual needs and productivity. This ability is exploited by smallholder poultry keepers in developing countries, as it was here in the past before scientifically formulated purchased feeds. The birds are scavengers, as long as they can make clear and easy nutritional choices they are healthy and productive. Would such a , "free choice" or "Cafeteria" system work here?

The hens could have free ad lib access to a mixture of whole oats and wheat in one feeder ( A hen's gizzard is just as effective as a hammer mill at grinding whole grains), with ground limestone in another and perhaps lucerne meal in a third. Protein could be further supplemented by insects, worms, slugs and household food waste.

As a former Irish colleague of mine once observed, "that's all very well in practice Tom but will it work in theory?".