Monday, 9 January 2017

Snow on the way - time to save some lambs

The first two minutes of life (and the last two) are the most precarious, a lot of lambs are lost around birth.

Probably as many are lost now, in the second month of pregnancy when nutritional stress leads to re-absorption of foetuses in the womb.

The heavy snow and deep cold in Northern Europe is moving our way this week so we have started to feed silage to save those foetal lambs.

We will bring them into the sheep house later in the month for the second half of pregnancy, they will stay inside until they lamb in April. they can be much more closely
supervised and manged indoors and kept in for at least two days if the weather is wet and cold.

It's the wet cold weather that kills, with hypothermia. If the lmb are dry and have enough milk they can survive below zero temperatures.

Hopefully they will be turned out into the sun with lots of milk.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Avian flu restrictions extended

Bored and frustrated
You might think that my hens would like being in a well ventilated, dry and windproof building at this time of year but they don't. Every time I open the door to give them fresh food ans water they try to get out. They are now banged up until 28th February.

Outbreaks of the H5N8 virus have been confirmed in England and Wales and if they are outside my birds are mixing with everything from seagulls to wild geese and sparrows.

It's more of a problem for small scale backyard poultry keepers who have only a few birds and a a very small coop. Indoors they need dry litter, good ventilation and at least 1 sq metre of floor space each.

On the plus side their feet are clean so the eggs are clean and easy to collect as they only have the nest box to lay in. Normally I have to search for eggs in straw stacks, the barn and even under hedges.

Because the hybrid egg laying machines ( the brown ones) are mixed up with the La Bresse

(white ones) and I don't have enough pens indoors to separate them I can't produce hatching eggs at the moment and these eggs are worth $3 each.

Friday, 6 January 2017

The Snitterfield Oak - 700 years and still going strong

Old when
Shakespeare was a boy just three miles away
The Snitterfield oak was  probably an acorn in the early 13 th century. Robert Bruce was King of Scotland and Edward 1 was on the English throne.

I photographed it this week and it looked pretty healthy for an ancient tree. How do I know its age? I tracked it down on the Woodland Trust data base.

When the tree was last measured at girth height (1.5m above ground level) in 2007 it was 8.03m around, which according to the WT makes it over 700 years old. It was probably planted to mark the boundary of the village's medieval open field system.

At the time even the aristocracy did not own the land, the King gave them a right to it and in turn they rented strips to the village serfs or peasants. There were rarely fences or hedges to mark the boundary. Fences came with the Enclosure Acts in the early 18th century when land became a tradeable commodity and the peasants were evicted.

Enclosure probably gave the feudal clan chieftains here in the Highlands the idea of the clearances as they became increasingly anglicised and greedy. They needed money to pursue their pleasures and define their status in London. But I digress, it's a remarkable tree and beautiful in the early morning light.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

More night visitors - Young red deer stags


The red deer rut is tailing off but there are still gangs of adolescent stags wandering around. This morning at about 3.30 am they were in the hay park in front of Cruachan 150 m up the road.

I was walking over this field yesterday on my way down to the seashore and realised there had been a number of deer grazing and resting. They had probably come down from the woodland below the common grazing, down to the shore and along to the lowest fence and best grass.

The older stags are still in charge of their mating harems on the hill and these younger ones have to wait until their elders are too tired towards the end of the season or until they are older and big enough to assert themselves.

It's interesting that we now have these deer in the township because if I am going to plant trees I will need more than plastic tubbes to protect them, I'll need deer fencing and this is hugely expensive.


Thursday, 8 December 2016

Avian flu... bio-security measures ... oops!..two days late. I should watch more TV.

"Nice out today"
Two regular blog readers asked me this morning, " what are you doing about avian flu? are you keeping the hens indoors? At the time I wasn't doing anything at all. So I had a quick look at the  Scottish Government Rural Payments and Inspection Directorate" website. It was so much easier to write when it was the plain"Department of Agriculture" but that's progress. I discovered that I am required to keep my free-range hens indoors for 30 days as from 6th December.

Without consulting the hens I organised their incarceration for this evening, two days late. I was aware that the flu had arrived in the South of France and thousands of geese destined for Christmas pate de foie gras  were slaughtered last week. Now it's in the Netherlands so our government feels it necessary to be seen to act.

Strangely there is no housing requirement in N. Ireland. If infected migratory birds can get to mainland Britain from Asia you would think they could make across the Irish Sea..

Even if you only have two hens in the back garden they must be banged up too.

Ricky and Scott turned up at four thirty to help. You have to wait until dark because then the hens become very sleepy and docile. I was able to lift them off their perches, pop them in the cat basket, then they were whisked off to their new pen in the old byre. The pen that we fortunately built and pine marten proofed in the summer.

We will probably find out if it's pine marten proof, they are more likely to be killed by a pine marten than avian flu.

The politician's do have to be seen to be doing something and covering their backs at the same time you might think.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Night time serial killer pine marten caught on camera

A bantam, a hen and two chickens were missing yesterday morning. They had been persistently roosting in the shrubbery and I had tried to get them back into their house but they wouldn't cooperate. They paid the price. If poultry aren't safely locked up at dusk a pine marten is sure to get them.

The pine marten will then return the next night looking for an easy meal so I set up the trail camera behind the house where the massacre took place. The first image was a pine marten sniffing around the hen house.

Mimi, my hybrid wild cat, was on the other images also sniffing around but I'm pretty sure that she would give a pine marten a wide berth.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Craigard woodland croft

When the Highland feudal landowners turfed their tenants out of their homes and off their land in the 19 th century they stopped just short of genocide by providing the dispossessed with strips of poor quality land above high water mark.

Remnant of  wildwood, Glen
These holdings or "crofts" were not large enough to support self-sufficiency so the Crofters had to work for the landowner at starvation wages.

Towards the end of the century Crofters acquired some rights to their holdings. These rights brought obligations; mainly to use the land productively.

We are required to carry out agricultural, horticultural or other productive activities which can also include forestry. Most of us keep sheep which only show a profit when you add the Single Farm Payment or subsidy from the European Union.

People in England voted in June to leave the EU. Here in Scotland we voted 72 % in favour of remaining. but when we do eventually leave we will no longer get the EU farm payment ergo if we keep sheep it will be a loss making enterprise. Sheep will largely disappear from the crofting counties. So what are the alternatives.

Providing tourist facilities is a possibility but we already have three campsites in the village and people looking for B&B want en-suite bathrooms (croft houses are too small and bathrooms are expensive to install). Equestrian enterprises and golf courses are acceptable but both require large amounts of land , management expertise and capital.

Forestry is an alternative as long as you are not looking for a cash income in the next forty years. Of course the best time to plant trees is twenty years ago. Second best is now so I think that the sheep will have to go with their lambs in the Spring and I'll start planting trees this winter.

I'll need a new title for the blog, "Craigard Woodland Croft" perhaps.