Friday 28 February 2014

Only days to go before kidding

Goat pregnancies take 150 days plus or minus five. For Hebe day 150 is Sunday 7th March so its possible there could be some action this Sunday 2nd! Preparations have to be made, pens cleaned and disinfected, kit such as iodine, vets disposable plastic gloves, lambing ropes got together. lubricant and an old clean towel.

The ligaments are either side of the tail
Hebe looks relaxed. I had a look at her tail ligaments all the same. Normally a goat's rump is flat or slightly sloping but towards the end of pregnancy things change. The tail bone rises up and the ligaments connecting it to the pelvis loosen. In a doe where birth isn't imminent the ligaments are very firm.  A day of giving birth the ligaments soften and then vanish. Hebe isn't there yet neither is Acorn who's due on the 8th.

They've both had a trim around the rear end. This is so that the kids can find the teats but also because lambing can be a messy business 
Still a bit hairy around the udder
and we need them to easily cleaned for milking. The plan is for the kids to suckle their mother for up to two weeks so they not only get colostrum but a really good nutritional start in life.

By about day 10 or 12 they will still be suckling but only for about 15 hours a day. At night the kids will be penned separately next to their mothers who will then be milked in the morning only. No milk to heat, no bottles to fill and no midnight feeding.

This is slightly irrelevant but I thought I'd share it with you.... Many years ago when I worked on a farm in Ontario there was an advertising jingle for Carnation Milk that went something like this......." No tits to pull, no hay to pitch, just punch a hole in the sonofabitch...I like Carnation Milk".

Once heard never forgotten, perhaps Canadian readers over 70 will remember it?

Thursday 27 February 2014

Simulated jungle habitat destroyed by wood cutter.

The Chicken Inspector (aka "Dormouse") is-nae happy!

March is the traditional time for people with wood burning stoves to run out of fuel so Rob has been wielding his chainsaw.

Dormouse pointed out that the log pile has been a bit of simulated jungle habitat for the hens since last summer; it shades them from the sun (what sun?), shelters them from the wind and provides a look out perch. They spent yesterday evening forlornly pecking around in the
   sawdust.Not to worry!

Ever resourceful the hens have discovered that sheep housing is really nice with its cosy nest sites in the hay, uneaten grain on the floor and protection from the weather.

Wednesday 26 February 2014

How to lay an egg

You learn a lot by leaning on a gate watching animals. When one of the hens is about to settle in its nest and lay an egg it gives a little," I'm about to lay an egg" call. Sometimes the cockerel will rush over and  escort her to he nest which needs to be dark, secluded and ideally about 1m off the ground. There wasn't much of this going on around Christmas, on Christmas Day I got two eggs from twenty hens because they shut down as day length decreases.That was ten weeks ago, since mid January egg production has been gradually increasing with day length, yesterday I got 14.

February sunrise, start of the hen's working day
Dusk is a cue for ovulation and egg laying, Ovulation (when the egg leaves the ovary) starts about nine hours after the start of darkness and lasts for about five hours. Laying follows about 24hrs later, early in the day. Subsequent eggs are laid at intervals of 24 - 28 hours until early afternoon is reached. Then a day is missed.  this is known as an egg laying "sequence" . After the missed day laying starts again so that in 10 days a hen will lay about 7 eggs in two sequences in Spring.

The number of eggs laid will increase between now and the end of March then gradually decline after midsummer. I could over ride this natural system by putting lighting in the hen house to ensure a 14 hour working day in winter. This would give us a winter supply of eggs, its what happens in commercial poultry keeping but I want most eggs in Spring for sale as hatching eggs and in Summer to sell at the farm gate to visitors.

A dark comfortable nest in the hay
Finding and using a nest is a powerful drive. Left to their own devices my hens prefer a dark niche in a stack of hay bales. In cage the birds cannot, dust bath, perch, stretch or nest, these natural activities are frustrated.

It isn't enough to keep animals free of harm, hunger, pain and thirst; they need a high quality environment where they can express their natural behaviours.

Thursday 20 February 2014

Now for something completely different..........goats in the Western Ghats

Dale is back from a three week study tour of goat keeping in India. It wasn't just goats; there were beaches, trains, buses, food and sightseeing involved. Here's the goat story...........

35 degrees in the shade
We took the opportunity of the break from the milking routine and before the births of our four kids in March, to visit their ancestral cousins in Kerala, India. Goats are a common sight there and in many towns and villages they are left to roam during the day singly or in small family groups. Those in the towns seem to spend most of their time sifting through any piles of rubbish they come across (a far cry from our pampered trio) or, in the case of the kids, playing ‘king of the castle’.  They disappeared from the streets at night finding their way home for milking and presumably some food.
Big ears and fine coat for maximum heat loss
However in the countryside of the western Ghat hills the goats were taken to fresh scrub land twice a day and tethered, along with cows and water buffalo, presumably to stop them eating the rice, or the tea and coffee bushes since there were no field boundaries. Each evening we would see them being driven home usually by the women or children of the household. We didn’t see any fully grown billy goats and since Hindus who make up the biggest group in Kerala are vegetarian we wondered how and where they dispose of the young male goats. (I’m sure Tom will know!).

I don't know but I am guessing that the non Hindu population has recipes for goat curry

Sunday 16 February 2014

Trainee goatherd takes to the hills

Wee G practicing the Royal wave
At last the sun is out, its warm and windless the perfect day for goats and humans to get out on the hill. Since November we've all been cooped up indoors all need exercise and vitamin D.  My Granddaughter has started to walk (on smooth surfaces not the hill) so its time to learn about goat herding on her mother's back. You can't actually herd goats. They decide to follow you if they think you might be a competent leader. We only need head collars and harnesses to get them across the road and then they are free.

Up by the common grazing we met
Lichens and mosses
Alistair and his dog "Don" who got a bit excited but he remembered that last time Pia, "pittheheidoanim" (head butted him) so he wisely kept his distance.

No grazing today just nibbling lichens, mosses and tips of rushes. No jumping and skipping either, it must be motherhood that's sobered them up.

Thursday 13 February 2014

Crofting, climate change and scientific illiteracy : vote YES for independence and save the planet.

Road to the lighthouse inundated by the sea Dec 2012
Here on the edge of the N.Atlantic we know about bad weather,  heavy rain and violent storms,  but the last three months have been extreme. Strong winds and rain have been relentless since the beginning of November. Alistair who lives down by the shore, just above high tide, has known Ardnamurchan weather for over  seventy years and he cannot recall anything remotely like it.

Bad weather blogging
For the last twenty years climate science has proposed that there is  a high probability that global warming, climate change and extreme weather are linked. As a scientist I accept this balance of probabilities. Almost as disturbing as the evidence for climate change is the emergence of a vociferous bunch of climate change deniers who are actively determined to undermine public confidence in science. Nigel (Lord) Lawson, Nigel Farage (UKIP) and even the Minister for the Environment Owen Paterson. If I were paranoid I might think it was some kind of right wing conspiracy of  ill informed publicity seekers funded by big business.

The UK Meteorological Office has objective evidence on climate change and the rise in sea level (12cm) during the last 100 years, together with a prediction that it will rise by a further 11 - 16 cm ( two thirds of this is attributed to climate change) by 2030. Thats three to four times as much as in the previous 100 years and only 16 years away.

The loony right in Westminster may be climate change deniers but  the Scottish Government is committed to a precautionary approach and has policies that will attempt to deal with climate change.  In the government White Paper, "Scotland's Future" there is an acceptance that climate change is happening and that it is driven by CO2 emissions, energy policy after independence will be based on this premise.

You may think that I am saying, "VOTE YES FOR INDEPENDENCE AND SAVE THE PLANET"............

I couldn't possibly comment.

2000 absentee Crofters and neglect of the land

Ormsaigbeg crofting township
In 2010 the "Crofting Reform (Scotland) Act" gave the newly formed Crofting Commission responsibility for dealing with the problem of "absentee Crofters". If you are a tenant or owner occupier of one of Scotland's 18,000 crofts you are required to live on the croft or no further than 32 km away. The Crofter also has an obligation to carry out crofting; keeping livestock, growing crops and other croft based economic activity. According to BBC News the "Commission" is going to get tough with absenteeism by requiring all Crofters to report annually on croft residence and activity.

It has been estimated ( by whom I don't know) that throughout the Crofting Counties there are 2,000 absentee Crofters. The effects of absenteeism and neglect include derelict croft houses, encroachment of bracken,the blight of caravans and chalets and depopulation in winter.

Abandoned and neglected
Between my house and the end of the road, just over a mile, there are twenty crofts, twenty two houses and eight caravans.  In winter only seven houses are inhabited, all of us are over sixty and one is ninety plus. Good land running down to high water mark and up to the common grazing is neglected; overrun by bracken, brambles and coarse grasses. There are only two active users of the common grazing (5,500 acres) out of 23 shareholders.

Not all of the absentee land is neglected; some of it has tenants or less formal grazing arrangements, not all of the houses are neglected they are well maintained as holiday homes, many by the descendants of the last generation of Crofters who have strong familial ties to the land.  These people contribute to the local economy, maintain the crofting landscape and enliven the place ( mainly in Summer).

Perhaps the Commission should be targeting absenteeism by dealing first with abandonment and total neglect  in order  to provide a crofting base for younger people and the community with a better balanced demographic.

Monday 10 February 2014

Winter sports holiday in Kent

Good shooting

You don't need snow for a winter sports holiday; just some countryside, woods, congenial company, pheasants and a gun, or in my case, a stick as my eyesight has rendered me a liability shooting in in dense scrub. The last Friday in January was the end of the pheasant shooting season when the cock birds are shot before the start of the next season of hatching and rearing.

Good company
Its a bit odd for an old Crofter to travel 600 miles south for a days shooting and totally irrelevant you may think to a blog about crofting and life in Lochaber. But we all need a holiday and I did live and work in E. Kent for 20 years. It was a chance to meet up with old friends, have some good food, sup real Kent ale and have a look at the state of farming in the South.

The sheep are bigger (Romneys), soils are deep and fertile, summers are warm, farms are big. The usual problem is a lack of water but not this year.  Rivers are overflowing.

Its one extreme of the farm business spectrum, the profitable extreme. Many of the farms are arable, large and fertile, owner occupied without an overdraft and the farmers are technically competent. Contrast that with livestock farming in the west of Britain where farms are smaller, soils thinner, overdrafts common and there are more tenant farmers.

River Stour at Godmersham Park
Between the two extremes there is an infinite number of combinations of all of the factors I've listed that affect farm profits, all farm businesses are different. But it has to be easier in the South, "boys land".

Ultra sound scan for the goats : One pair of twins and two singles

The man with the sheep scanner was here today so I walked the three goats down to Pat MacPhail's croft to find out how many kids they are carrying. Its is importatnt to know how many foetuses the goats have so that they can be fed appropriately. The growing foetus doubles in size in the last six weeks of pregnancy so the mothers need a high energy / high protein diet to support this and growth of milk secreting tissue in the udder.

The scanner in action
They walked up into the crate without any fuss and stood still for the examination because they are so used to being handled and of course are far more intelligent than sheep. I couldn't make head nor tail of the ultra sound image from where I was standing but the scanner man has been doing this for thirty years.

Pia is carrying twins ( due around 22nd March) Hebe and Acorn each have a single due the first weekend in March. Pia will need extra rations but we will have to be more sparing with the other two so that their kids are not too big and difficult to deliver.