Thursday 24 September 2015

More "real free range eggs" needed

Design by Rachael
My lambs averaged  £42 a head in the mart last week, that's about what it costs to feed them, house them, dose them, inject them and get them to the market. The one enterprise that does leave a margin is the hens, visitors can't get enough of their " real free range eggs".  An hour after I put them out in the roadside box they are gone and people are soon back for more.

You will never get a fresher, tastier more brightly coloured egg. This is almost entirely because  my hens are truly free range . They scratch and hunt in the midden, along the roadside, in the grass, inside  the buildings when its raining and in the shrubbery that simulates the S. Indian jungle where they evolved. Worms, insects, seeds, leaves add to their scientifically formulated layers pellets. I have even seen one swallow a whole mouse.

Supermarket free range eggs  take much longer to get to you, about 10 days and  are produced by hens living under a regime that regulates how many can be kept in one house, the minimum floor space and outside grazing which is usually a short cropped grass field which isn't very interesting to a hen. Mine also have a choice of nesting sites, from the goat's hay rack, to tunnels under bale stacks in the big shed and the nest boxes provided for them , choice makes them  happy I think.

There's also the company of a handsome, randy French male
Demand is high from Easter until September when the visitors are fewer and the hens begin to moult, the days shorten and the temperature falls. Production picks up again in mid February and peaks in March before the visitors arrive.  The plan for next year is to buy some "point of lay" pullets in the Spring to supplement the La Bresse hens whose main jobs are hatching egg production and traffic calming. 

Sunday 20 September 2015

A to Z of things to do around Kilchoan - Beinn Resipol Hill Race

The summit dominates the peninsula between Salen and Strontian its 825 metres above sea level and a 7.5 mile round trip from the shores of  Loch Sunart.

 Yesterday the winner of the hill race completed the course in 1 hour 10 minutes.

That's an average speed over the course of five miles an hour but on the downhill section the top runners flew past at over ten miles an hour waving arms for balance and with  great leaping strides.

I took part, in a less active role with John Dove,  as course marshals we were only a 30 Min stroll from the start, an appropriate job given our combined ages add up to 145 years. Not only is the winner's time remarkable but all 64 competitors completed the run in under three hours. the last time I was on the peak it was an eight hour round trip.

Next year its on again, same weekend, same place.

Monday 7 September 2015

Another midnight visitor Pt.2 - Pine marten video

At last I've worked out how to insert a video. Its a slow process my learning how to do these things, like an amoeba, trial and error, one step forward two steps back.

Another midnight visitor : Pine marten hunting

The gate into the hill park seems to be a major nocturnal route for wildlife.

Yesterday there was a little heap of pine marten scat on the track its easily identified at this time of year as its full of berries mainly Rowan and my raspberries.

This morning there was a whole series of images, the pine marten was footling about for quite a while until Mimi my hybrid wildcat showed up.

You would expect pine martens to live in trees, they don't, they make their home in abandoned buildings, cairns of rock and the lofts of holiday homes if there is even the smallest entry.

 Over the years I must have lost more than 30 hens to pine martens, always at night when there has been the slightest security lapse. Once inside the hen house they kill everything possibly because they are panicked by the even more panicked hens. The only solution is maximum security, no holes, electrically operated doors that close at dusk and my own form of biological control, having a pee beside the hen house, after dark of course. This technique was first demonstrated to me by an old Shepherd 50 years ago when he made a nightly round of the lambing pens to keep foxes away.

If you are here on holiday a trail camera in the garden of your cottage is a great way to watch wildlife and better for pine martens than feeding them jam sandwiches on the bird table.

Sunday 6 September 2015

Midnight visitors - Badger and Hedgehog.

Something was helping itself to hay from the feeder in the hill park this week, there were trails of flattened grass up to and through the fence Sue thought it was badgers, perhaps stealing hay to line a sett. I borrowed Jon's trail cam yesterday to find out what was going on and it worked.

Half an hour after midnight a badger turned up snuffling around a trap set for mink (see video still). Ten minutes later a hedgehog followed.

When we lived below the N. Downs our parish in Kent was estimated to have the highest density of badgers in Europe, you almost tripped over them on evening walks, it was relatively easy for them to excavate setts in the soft chalk. Here in Ardnamurchan there is only a thin scrape of soil overlying boulders and bedrock so finding a home must be difficult for them.

If you haven't read Roger McGough's poem , "The Badgers and the Goodgers" find a copy. Once upon a time there were two species; the goodgers were sweet natured and nibbled moon beams while the badgers swore and fought all the time, they drove the goodgers to extinction.

In England the UK government is killing badgers again in a misguided and unscientific attempt to control TB in cattle. Its a political move to please their farmer voters Each year a dairy cow produces roughly seven tonnes of faeces and urine (slurry) which is then spread on grassland the nocturnal feeding ground of badgers.Could the cows be infecting the badgers ?

Hedgehogs eat worms, I wonder if they follow badgers around to pick up any worms that the badgers have unearthed and not eaten?

Saturday 5 September 2015

Cosmetic wood burning stoves increase UK carbon emissions : A light bulb moment

Domestic users can hire this log splitter
I haven't been to many conferences since I retired and have realised that if I come away with one good idea then it was probably worth attending.

Yesterday I attended a , "Wood fuel summit" organised by Lochaber Environmental Group; the delegates and speakers were trying to find out what was needed to boost domestic wood fuel usage in Lochaber. The consensus seemed to be, " a reliable supply of competitively priced firewood sourced locally".

The UK is bottom of the European league for domestic energy use from bio-fuel sources at less than fifteen per cent. The Swedes are top at over 70 per cent. As usual the Scandinavians are best at  doing the right thing; everything from reducing CO2 emissions to welcoming Syrian refugees.

There is potential for more wood burning in homes in Scotland we are more or less self-sufficient in timber but the UK as a whole imports 80 to 85 per cent of its needs..... according to one speaker.

The " light bulb moment" was when I realised  that currently most firewood is going into wood burning stoves in sitting rooms around the country to provide a centre piece to the room; this is in addition to electric, gas or oil fired central heating. Rather than reducing CO" emissions. We are adding to the problem by cosmetic wood burning.

Effective CO2 reduction by domestic wood burning doesn't just need a better, more reliable  locally grown and competitively priced source of  wood fuel. Better strategic and tactical thinking about how wood fuel is used in homes is needed so that it heats water, fuels central heating and even cooking.

One last observation; forestry and wood fuel meetings attract a high proportion of delegates with beards......over 50 percent yesterday, perhaps we have the highest percentage of bearded wood fuel enthusiasts in Europe?

Thursday 3 September 2015

A to Z of things to do in Kilchoan - Ragwort removal

This was Dormouse's idea because she thinks that sometimes visitors may become bored. Under "R" for ragwort you can set about removing it just as Alasdair did this week. First you have to buy a highly specialised tool, ragwort remover ( see image) at the Waitrose garden department in Embra so it's not a cheap pastime. There is no shortage of ragwort in flower at this time of year and little danger of it becoming extinct.

For the last 100 years myths about the toxicity of ragwort abound. My favourite is that it is a "notifiable weed" i.e.. you should report it's occurrence to DEFRA, if this was true and people did it the machinery of DEFRA would grind to a halt because its everywhere.

The toxicity of ragwort isn't a myth but it does vary in severity. If plants are incorporated in hay and subsequently fed to livestock, particularly horses, poisoning can be acute and fatal. However recent research in the Netherlands has shown that goats and sheep must eat their own body weight of the stuff for it to kill them. This is highly unlikely as it has a very acrid taste apparently. I haven't tried it.

When I wrote about ragwort once before I was contacted by an irate entomologist who told me that ragwort is an essential food plant for the rare cinnabar moth and I was contributing to its demise by removing plants so I don't need to be told this again!