Friday 29 April 2016

Yesterday subarctic - today the Ardnamurchan Riviera.

I must have mentioned the Loch Sunart Corniche; the drive from Strontian to Kilchoan, thirty miles of sublime landscape, blue seas, wild life and rainforest. today we had the Ardnamurchan Riviera, blue skies, snow capped peaks, emerald ocean and it was warm... really!

To prove it I went to Kilmory junction this afternoon to photograph it. OK I probably need to photoshop a few palm trees into the foreground but you get the idea.

Thursday 28 April 2016

April 28th ......... heaviest snowfall of the winter

Nearly two  months into meteorological Spring and we have the heaviest snowfall of the year so far with flakes like goose feathers.

Ewes and lambs always react the same way to this type of snow, standing quite still with their backs to the wind. Luckily the youngest lambs are at least two weeks old, well grown and well fed they aren't in any danger of hypothermia.

The ewe's thick fleece is like your."warm when wet" underwear in outdoor shops and fermentation in the rumen is a central heating system.

Pet lambs eating concentrates
Lambs however are still reliant on their mother's milk, rumination is just developing so they need a continuous supply of milk

"Pet lambs" the orphans in their pen in the byre are still being fed expensive milk substitute with hay and cereal based concentrate on offer

As soon as they are eating 250 g of solids a day and they are seven weeks old the milk is removed and they are weaned. Only another three weeks of milk mixing and bucket washing!

Wednesday 27 April 2016

White tailed eagle, hen harrier, cuckoo............ snowy owl? : Birding day out on Mull

Until last September it cost £38 return to take a car over to Mull now it's £16 so a day out on the island is possible. Hamza, our resident wildlife photographer, and I decided to have a birdwatching day out; a circuit of the best birding spots on the island.

I won't bore you with the complete list but among many other species we saw, white tailed eagle and hen harrier then heard our first cuckoo of 2016. Hamza has provided some of his photos they are his intellectual property and are not for reproduction).

Back home at about 5.00 pm I went out for firewood and caught a glimpse of a big white owl perched on the rafters of the sheep house. I was fooled but only momentarily, it didn't move and was just too white. A prankster at work! but who?Only one person would go to so much trouble; to find a stuffed owl, bring it to Kilchoan, find a ladder and set it up

Big Al...... here for the weekend. He did make amends by trundling several tonnes of logs into the shed in the wheel barrow for the splitter.

It's not as if it's a very good imitation but I'll leave it up there. It might attract a real but short sighted owl or surprise a visitor.

Tuesday 19 April 2016

Elderly Crofter requires elderly sheep dog.......

Sheep dog wanted

Elderly Crofter; Lame, deaf and short sighted
requires similar sheep dog for light work.
Must walk to heel and lie down on command.
 No car chasers need apply.
Daily walks ( slow), clean, warm, large, dry, draught free kennel
Good food and health insurance provided

During last winter my neighbour Alisdair's dog , Don, died. He would never be a trials dog but we did rely on him to move sheep into the fank. They will only follow a bucket of feed so far then they just laugh at you and run away grinning despite much shouting and stick waving.

I did have a young dog for a while, you may remember, Mac, but he wasn't cut out for the job and he was a car chaser which is often fatal. He now leads a leisurely life down in the English Midlands. My previous dog Roy could handle sheep and cattle take a drove on the road and was invaluable in the lambing field. Max suffered by comparison. Other endearing traits included his dislike of men in woolly hats, tractor salesmen and uniforms.

So I thought," there must be a Shepherd out there who has many dogs, some of them nearing retirement. One of these dogs could still be useful for scaring old ewes and forcing them into the pens.

He or she ( the dog) could be jointly looked after, wouldn't need training and might appreciate a good billet in the," Craigard Twilight Home for Collies". I'll have to discuss it with Alasdair.

Wednesday 13 April 2016

Little black lamb up for adoption.

The last of the gimmers lambed last night. Her lamb was dead but she has milk so this morning we decided to set a lamb on her.

Lamb for adoption
A ewe recognises its lamb first by its smell and soon after by its voice. If you have a lot of sheep lambing and need to get a ewe to adopt its fairly straightforward. You soak a recently born lamb, usually a triplet, in the birth fluids of another new mother with only one lamb or who had a dead lamb and pen them up together. The adopted lamb soon starts to suck and the new mum is usually fooled by the small of her own lamb on the new one.

Today was different, the lamb to be adopted is three days old and its was too late for the birth fluid trick. So we had to resort to the age old custom of dressing the lamb for adoption in the skin of the dead lamb. Skin the dead lamb as you would a rabbit pulling the skin over the head so that you end up with a skin a bit like a sweater.

The live lambs head then goes through the neck of the skin and its forelegs down through the leg skin, Its like pulling on a jumper. The hind legs are passed through two slits in the rear end of the skin to hold it in place.

We then put the lamb in an adjacent pen to become a little hungry and for the ewe to be able to smell it and see it. It might be necessary to bring in Nan's dog Jack to provoke the ewe's maternal instincts too.  Put a hungry lamb in with a strange ewe and the ewe will batter it with its head when it tries to suck. Hence all of the artifice.

Tuesday 12 April 2016

Pet lambs and Zwartbles

Orphan trainee
Orphan lambs, some triplets and twins end up being bottle fed "pet lambs" from time to time, each year we have one or two. They are well known to be an expensive, time consuming  nuisance but it has to be done You end up with a pot bellied lamb that has cost a fortune to feed and endless unsocial hours of feeding.

As long as they have had some of their mother's colostrum they adapt well and survive but they have to be trained to feed from a bottle or a bucket feeder. Ewe lambs seem to get the idea of sucking on a rubber teat much more quickly than the males. I start them off with a bottle for a day or two with warm milk. Then to save time and work they are switched to a bucket feeder with an array of rubber teals around the base. Once they learn how to use it I no longer have to feed them 3 or four time a day.

Zwartbles ewe lamb
The training requires some patience, an upturned wooden box for the trainer to sit on and a hungry trainee. I don't know if this is the normal procedure but it works for me. Of the four lambs in the pen two are orphan Cheviots, one is a Zwartbles cross ram lamb and the other a pure Zwartbles ewe lamb. They all came from Ockle where Dougie Cameron just doesn't have the time to rear pet lambs.

My granddaughter Gracie hasn't seen the ewe lamb yet but I've a feeling it may be around for some years once she meets it.

Friday 8 April 2016

Full lambing pens and sheep supermums.

Full lambing pens
I went out to the lambing shed after tea to find that another Charollais cross gimmer was lambing. Now these animals can be a problem, they are inexperienced and flighty. But the two that lambed this evening had twins and plenty of milk so their hormones kicked in and transformed them into supermums.

It's a week since we started and two thirds of the flock have lambed, the pens are full and if there are more tonight we will need emergency accommodation in the feed passage or the byre especially as the weather forecast is dire.

Charollais cross supermum
Charollais are easy lambing, and fast growing but they are a bit thin skinned, not as hardy as the Cheviot cross lambs. They need at least a couple of days indoors before turnout to ensure that they are getting plenty of milk to enable them can survive the cold and wet. Hypothermia is probably the biggest killer of neonatal lambs.

A gimmer is two years old and usually lambing for the first time.

Farm yard eggs a new and better class of free range egg

A good image says it all
Commercial free range  egg producers keep hundreds of hens in large, climate controlled houses the hens have access to a bit of grass but often prefer to stay inside. The welfare standards are high and the eggs are good quality but ours are better.... they are "farm yard eggs".

The hens on the label scavenge everywhere, the midden, the sheep house, the fields  and the byre. In the process they pick up a vast range of edibles; worms, insects, plants and I have even seen one eat a mouse. They have the highest welfare standards a varied diet, exercise and regular sex thanks to Asterix ( the Gauloise).

Novelty eggs for small customers
Farm yard eggs are the best with orange yolks, two distinct layers of albumen and of course flavour. Most of them are bought by passing visitors who can also see the hens at work so why bother with labels for the egg boxes?

I hope the label identifies, describes  and promotes the eggs, gives a good impression and looks a bit more professional than recycled boxes with the original label scratched out. We'll see....

The bantam eggs are popular with small customers and the staff canteen at the International Headquarters of Oxford Abstracts here in the village.

Friday 1 April 2016

Golden Wonder...... Scotland's favourite tattie

Bred over 100 years ago, in Scotland by a Mr. Brown of Arbroath "Golden Wonder" has to be the very best potato for roasting and chipping. Don't try to boil it, it will just turn to mush. It is a "floury" type of tattie, at the other end of the potato spectrum the varieties are "waxy" like your supermarket salad potatoes "Belle de Fontenay". They are best for boiling.
Russet skinned Golden Wonder

Last week I was given a small bag of Golden Wonder in perfect condition, they keep well through the winter and the flavour is supposed to improve with keeping.Now, you may have noticed that many of my blog posts coincide with really nasty weather, outside the wind is howling and rain is battering the kitchen windows. It's a day for blogging and cooking.

Golden Wonder are not easy to find in these days of Supermarket food mediocrity but you can still buy seed and elderly dwellers in deep rural Scotland (Crofters for example) still seem able to find them.

If you are going to cook this great variety you need a recipe to match. Here goes:

Boil tatties until cooked but be careful not to over do it, they will disintegrate.
Allow to cool slightly then roll in flour seasoned with salt and pepper until coated all over.
Place carefully in a roasting tin containing really hot goose fat, coat them with the fat
Place in a hot oven (200 C) until golden.
Drain on kitchen paper and place in warming draw until the roast wether mutton is ready.

If you don't have a mutton roast just eat them on their own....... superb.

Chicks hatching.......... the final 36 hrs

"Pipped" 21.00 hrs day 20
With humans the first two minutes of life are the most precarious ( the last two are pretty dodgy too) and so it is with hatching chicks. The incubator temperature and humidity have to be just right to get them to this stage and then from day 19 of the 21 days its all change.

The egg turning mechanism is switched off, the temperature is lowered by 0.1 degrees (the chicks are generating heat themselves now) and you wait for the first egg to "pip", usually late on day 20.

 The chick now has access to the outside air, up until now it has been breathing from the air sac at the rounded end of the egg.

Once the first chick pips the humidity is increased from 45% to 60% rh because the chick is cloaked in a membrane, if the humidity is too low the membrane shrinks and becomes impenetrable more or less strangling and asphyxiating the chick as it struggles to emerge from the shell.

Hatched 1100 hrs Day 21
Each chick has an egg tooth at the end of its bill, it then uses this to chip through the shell and push it off .  then a rest is needed for ten or twenty minutes before the final heave to emerge wet and bedraggled like a mini dinosaur.

From the first egg pipping to the emergence of the last chick took 36 hrs and once they were all dry and fluffy they are transferred to the brooder with a heat lamp, water and chick crumbs.

I set 24 eggs, 3 were infertile and 5 did not hatch so the hatch rate was 66%. It was low because twelve of the eggs came by post from Ireland, the postal experience is not good for hatchability but sometimes buying on the internet for delivery by post is the only way to get new breeds or unrelated birds for breeding.