Monday 23 November 2015

The downside of goat farming - An ethical dilemma

If you are a milk producer with either dairy cows or goats there is a downside, the male offspring are not necessarily in demand for meat. This is especially true with goat dairying. There is a strong demand from ethnic markets, specialist restaurants and in some farmers markets but this demand is low compared to the number of males born.

Forty years ago most goats were kept in small herds more or less as pets, today there are goat dairy farms with up to 1,500 milking females such has been the growth in demand for milk and cheese. Fifteen hundred females produce up to 1,000 male kids a year. The majority are killed at or near birth because the farms specialise in milk production. Even if these animals are killed humanely its an ethical problem, " is it better to have a short but happy, pain free life than not to have lived at all beyond 24 hrs?"

Some farmers are trying to find an answer to this dilemma by developing a market for "Cabretto" , kids are reared up to about 40 kg live weight and then sold into various niche markets.

This is also a dilemma for those of us keeping just a few goats, you could be overrun by male goats very quickly if as happened this year all of my kids born were males. Luckily some of my neighbours either like goat meat or are interested in trying it.

The kids were reared on their mothers, mother being milked once a day in the morning for up to 10 12 weeks before weaning, they then grazed out of doors in good weather, last Tuesday I took them to the Mull abattoir. It's a compromise but as Churchill said to Joe Stalin, "the alternative is worse" when Stalin claimed that democracy was a flawed system.

To cheer you up after that, take a look at some happy goats; go to Youtube and look for, "Giggle with the goats" you won't be disappointed.

Sunday 22 November 2015

Fence post indicators of air pollution - Air quality is best in the west!

Wooden fence posts last about 20 years at most in this climate. They usually rot where they meet the soil surface. But towards the end of their upright life they start to rot from the top developing a little ecosystem of their own with mosses, lichens and grasses.

Fencepost ecosystem : Mosses and lichens
The commonest fence post moss is Heath star moss (Campylopus introflexus) it's an invasive species, the mossy equivalent of rhododendron, it got to Britain in the early 20 th century from the southern hemisphere  and is now found, on fence posts from the Scilly Isles to the Shetlands. Not just fence posts it's on the surface of peat bogs and my roof tiles.

Lichens are the shrubby type (Cladonia spp.)  a combination of algae and fungus growing together symbiotically. If you see them the air is clean as here in Lochaber. The algae in the symbiotic partnership are super sensitive to sulphur dioxide a major air pollutant in towns and towns and cities.

When I lived in Moscow the air was so polluted there were obviously no lichens, no mosses and only one species of insect (Faecal mosquitoes that lived in the drains) because the air was toxic like the air in London now.

So just another indicator of why it's best in the West.

PS. I have just remembered there are two insects in Moscow, I forgot the cockroaches. They were not a problem because you could buy little cardboard boxes that you placed in cupboards  they contained something very nasty, radioactive polonium perhaps. These were known as "Cockroach hotels" like "Hotel California" the cockroaches checked in but never checked out.

PPS. the second pic is another of my cousin's high speed watercolours. He reads the blog in California, gets his paints out, does an impression of my photo and sends it to me. Its better than the original image I think.

Friday 20 November 2015

Why do farmers and crofters bother - incomes down again in 2014 /15

"We'll be redundant next!"
Each year the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs looks at a sample of farm businesses with a turn over greater than £25,000 to see what has  happened in the last year. The results were published at the end of October and raises the question, " why do farmers carry on, when their income could be significantly higher if they didn't bother?".

In most cases  most types of farm  business made a loss before the payment of SFP ( single farm payment or subsidy). They didn't make enough to pay themselves or their family work force. After the SFP , payments for conservation projects and diversification which includes holiday lets, horse livery and wind turbines a loss was turned into a small profit but still not enough for a "living wage" and re-investment. You will not read this in the Daily Mail but there are farmers who only get by because of working family tax credits.

Farmers have, historically, been capital rich but cash poor and the present situation puts English and Welsh  food production in a very precarious position It must be very tempting to liquidate the capital then give in, give up and go away, turn the farm over to housing, industrial development or a banker looking for a safe haven for his bonus because he doesn't trust the banks.

Crofters generally don't have this problem being both capital poor and cash poor, lambs have always sold for less than the cost of production but it's easier than buying and maintaining a ride on mower.

Wednesday 18 November 2015

The Road Equivalent Tariff (RET) .......... Good for Kilchoan's livestock producers.

Livestock on the way to Mull
My uncle Dave was a butcher. Out the back of the shop was the, " Killin hoose", better known as a slaughter house but today we would call it an "abattoir" sensibilities have changed. Here on the peninsula we don't have an abattoir, the nearest is on Mull a 25 mile round trip from Kilchoan. Until the end of October the only practical abattoir to use was at Grantown on Spey a 300 mile round trip.

With the advent of the RET and much cheaper ferry tickets the Salen abattoir is the best option, its sixteen pounds for a return ticket, takes less than half a day to get there, unload and get home. this opens up a whole range of possibilities for marketing livestock products we can sell direct to the customer.

The abattoir does a complete job including butchering, packing and even delivery. A "Farmer's Market" is now a real possibility where Crofters can sell their lamb, beef, goat and even venison. If salads, vegetables, fruit, seafood, free range eggs, baking and preserves are added to the mix it will be worth a visit by locals and summer visitors. The first is scheduled for 9th May 2016. 

Tuesday 17 November 2015

"Norwegian Wood ".......... A book review

I do admire the Norwegians as my Antarctic exploring neighbour Trevor knows and as I have said before, they are the best at getting to the South Pole, blowing up Nazi power stations and making sensible use of their oil revenues for everyone's benefit. You might add they are tall, good looking and knit nice sweaters.

Now there is another world beating Norwegian activity: chopping, stacking and drying firewood. It's all in a new international, number two best seller, "Norwegian Wood". So I am not alone chopping, cutting and stacking wood as a hobby, there are thousands more romantically inclined woodsmen out there who read about their pastime.

The number two best seller bit must be true, I read it in the Guardian yesterday then immediately ordered a copy that arrived at lunchtime. I have put the fire on, a wood burner of course and have skimmed through it before settling down to read

There's excellent advice on tools, techniques and stacking logs as an art form, the illustrations are
200 year old woodcutter and his logs
brilliant. I will then pass it on to Dormouse who thinks I am slightly crazy doing all this manual stuff but the woodcutters in the illustrations all look happy, healthy and even older than me. This is the ideal Christmas gift for practising or armchair woodsmen with an interest in renewable energy.

Monday 2 November 2015

Mobile fold unit for 12 to 15 hens

Fold nits 50 years ago
Breeding poultry here is challenging. Predators are the main problem; american mink, pine marten and foxes. I don't mind trapping and killing mink or shooting foxes but pine martens are quite a different matter, they are protected by law and very attractive. So I have designed and built a high security fold unit.

Up to fifty years ago, before battery cages and dep litter housing most commercial poultry were free range or at least kept out doors many in fold units. these houses were light weight, strong and easily moved by hand, the hens had access to grass, were kept in small groups ( up to about 30), were protected from foxes and the worst weather then moved to fresh pasture each day.  Battery cages, controlled environments and labour costs rapidly got rid of this system. I am reviving it !

Ready to pick up and move
The unit is relatively light and can be moved easily when the hens are shut in the roosting compartment. Weather board cladding on a 75 mm by 50 mm frame ensures that it is strong enough not to twist and fall apart when moved. The Trolley picks up one end of the house on two stub axles, I then  press the frame down to ground level, insert a piece of wood between the house and the frame, walk to the opposite end, pick it up and move it, then reversing the procedure. It works beautifully.

There will be a feeder and water trough in the run, poultry manure will be well distributed through the slatted floor and hopefully the hens will be safe. even the nest box on the end has to have a fox proof latch.

In position
Tonight after dark, because that is when hens are quiet, almost comatose, and eay to catch they will be transferred from their old hen house.

Welding and fabrication of the frame was done by Jim Caldwell, you can find a drawing in, " Making Mobile Hen Houses", Michael Roberts  Golden cockerel press, 2004.


Sunday 1 November 2015

Creag Meagaidh National Nature Reserve - Arctic alpine wild land walking

Gnarled old birches the seed source for the recovering woodland
Thirty five years ago the vast arctic alpine plateau of Creag Meagaidh was bought by a commercial forestry company for commercial forestry, the plan was to cover 1000 acres of species rich grassland with conifers, probably sitka spruce. The glen and the plateau had been long overgrazed by sheep and deer but their grassland diversity survived without trees. The Nature Conservancy Council ( now SNH), the RSPB and celebrity ecologist David Bellamy got involved, the land was put back on the market and Creag Meagaidh became a National Nature Reserve.

Over the next ten years the red deer population, estimated at over 1000 was reduced to less than 100.  Yesterday Hamza (Ardnamurchan's resident wildlife photographer) and I saw the effect of excluding grazing, the birch woods have regenerated heather and blaeberry have replaced the hill grasses and its an altogether more beautiful and valuable place than it was or might have been under commercial forestry.

Coire Ardair
This extraordinaty national asset is open to all, from snow and ice climbers in the gullies above Coire Ardair, to hill walkers on the tops and birdwatchers in the glen. Its not exactly, " a thing to do around Kilchoan, its a three hour drive from here but as it's just off the A 86 you could visit on your way here or on your way home.

Inexperienced walkers can't get lost there's a well engineered path from the car park to Coire Ardair through the birch woods and then open
Coire Ardair water colour by my cousin Ian
hillside. There are still deer to be seen along with dippers in the river and snow buntings beside the path. In summer there are nesting dotterel, one of Britain's rarest breeding birds, up on the plateau together with golden plovers and more snow buntings. Don' miss out on this tract of Scottish wild land that is accessible by walkers of all abilities.

Amazing technology... Ian read the blog in California this morning, then dashed off a watercolour based on the photograph.