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.