Auf Wiedersehen Herr Hrossey

Mr Hrossey was a steer. A fine prize steer (no connection to the fine prize cow in ‘What the Ladybird Heard’ by Julia Donaldson). Today, he went off to his forever home as he was just about to hit the 30 month mark. However, this wasn’t just any send off, he got a proper leaving do. For not just myself, the Mini Crofter and the Micro Crofter were involved. But a German film crew.

A fine party of three who seemed to manage loading a steer, shifting a bull, babysitting a baby and dealing with the mayhem of our house (along with heavy burst of rain, high wind and glaring sunshine at times). For, it was not just a day for day tripping to the abattoir. This was a day for making bread and relish (while trying to get tea sorted). So, my home does not suit Country Homes and Interiors magazine. Mine is a working kitchen, with mouths to feed and cows to shift. So, for anyone in Germany; the saying goes that my kitchen looks like ‘there appears to have been a struggle’. But don’t look at what I haven’t done, for the steer’s away, two lots of cows shifted, and I made it to spinning group. Housekeeping can wait.

Now, I decided today being in TV production can not be easy. And today gave them a run for their money. For there is no second shots of asking a cow to come more slowly through a gate. Two year olds do not accommodate for cameras either (or at least mine wasn’t keen; I even had to shift a tractor to get him to sit quietly at one point). Seven month olds do better until it takes the bull a lot longer to go through a gate and it’s getting into meal times. And what about people like me who either talk to themselves or don’t say a word (just like the ladybird)? Am I supposed to if I have a camera watching. What about the mike? Is it on all the time?

In reflection, it seemed to go ok. Hopefully today gave them a glimpse of crofting. My reflection is, longer grass can hide some pretty big stones if you pull off to let someone pass…

Everybody hurts

The past week (and a bit) has been a bit of a journey. A William Tell Overture with a swan song and minor key change/REM song interspersed.

For where there is livestock, there is deadstock. Maybe not something we like to discuss but it can (and will) happen.

In the process of collecting the sheep in so I could shear, the wee dude was spotted. Now, our Jacob sheep are a friendly bunch. They generally run towards you or just keep on with their grass cutting job when you go near them. So to have a sheep not run away wasn’t overly concerning. However, when I went to get him to join the others, I knew something wasn’t right. A bit of investigating and after the diagnosis, the discussion was made to put him out of his misery.

Now, I realise some don’t understand how I can raise stock that ends up on my plate but I would say, that is so much more easier than dealing with an animal that is not well. They often don’t let on that something is wrong, they can’t communicate the extent of their illness/pain and so with that, it’s often left to knowledge, experience and guess work on knowing how to quickly treat (or ring a vet). Those of us with livestock like our animals to have happy and contented lives and we want them to end them well, not in pain or stress. I could have put him through a lot with medications etc which may or more likely, may not have worked causing a drawn out conclusion. And the advice I got before the decision was made, was to make his exit as swift as possible.

So, what did I do? I phoned a friend to come for support. We have the means to humanly put down our livestock if we need it. That doesn’t mean it makes it easy so figured the best way was not to approach it (the task, not the sheep) on my own.

But it’s not just the first phase that is easy. Once you have a dead animal, you then have to get it taken away. So here is the massive thank you to the Fallen Stock Collection man (aka knackerman). His is not a job for the faint hearted. Funnily enough, it’s also a career I never heard spoke about at school. When he did arrive, it was not a hot day he came but his lorry certainly had an aroma. A chatty guy and one able to tell the the do’s and don’ts of dead-stock management. Not what I had pictured needing to do while the. Crofter was away, that’s for sure.

But the croft still goes on. And for several days, a Mini Crofter has been asking me if the knackerman was coming back. No son, hopefully the knackerman visiting will be few and far between.

When a plan comes together.

Do you love it when a plan comes together? Then I suggest avoid planning anything that involves the weather, livestock and toddlers. Because all can be as unpredictable as the wheels on a supermarket trolley.

So yes, at the end of July the Crofter headed back to ‘work’ with a few things that needed to still be done on the croft. The last of the sheep needed shearing (don’t be thinking I do 200 in a day, more one in every 200 hours). One tractor down to the neighbours to turn hay, closely followed by getting the old baler set up and ready. Intersperse with a few sheep having foot problems due to the rubbish weather, a sheep needing culled, a lovely chat with the knacker man (not a job for those with sensitive noses), a broken water pipe to the water trough so no water for cows or the polytunnel, a phone call from my ‘work’ saying my registration was about to run out, a bull needing shifting, a shed delivery by an lorry driver who couldn’t follow directions, and as of this evening, a cow with an udder problem.

Thankfully I had unsuspecting visitors staying on most occasions which meant the term, ‘can you hold a baby?’ really meant, ‘can you look after two highly energetic boys while I nip off for an hour?’. Little wonder I have very few offering to hold a baby anymore.

Now, don’t be thinking all went to plan. Plan? What plan? Hard to plan when a lot of what your job entails seems to be trouble shooting. The baler managed a near lap before breaking down. All sheep have been sheared although I have the most magnificent suntan stripe on my lower back (don’t shear with your back to the sun was that lesson). The bull eventually went through the right gate and I only jumped the fence once (and would not have done it without the help of a neighbour; shift the bull that is, not leaping fences). The water pipe was fixed by another neighbour and another (yes, I have fantastic neighbours) one helped retrieve the herd (I had taken emergency action to release them into the far field that has a burn to ensure they had water thinking it wouldn’t be easy fixing the broken pipe. My neighbour managed in about 10 mins!).

So after livestock, polystock. And man alive, that poly tunnel is a jungle. So that will be next week’s task…in my spare time.

Kenny Rogers and The Baler

If Kenny Roger’s had been from the Highlands, his song ‘The Gambler’ would have been tweaked to be ‘The Baler’. The tone of the music matching the atmosphere when hay making. Having a clear one week sunny, light wind and no dew window would be desirable. Nearly a fantasy and seems more attune to the term ‘clutching at straws’; except it should be straw (and hay). In fact, there seems to be a strong similarity between gambling and hay making. When do we cut? Is the grass too short? Too long? Has it dried enough? Can we spread it? Rain is forecast, what do we do? When can we start baling? How long into the night will this go? And so on. Now, to add to the pressure, this was not our hayfield, but the neighbours. And you really don’t want to wreak their winter feed. Oh, and the Crofter had just left to go off shore but I still had relatives hanging about to help with watching a Mini and a Micro Crofter but not ones that could operate machinery and were supposed to be on holiday. not helping me work.

With haymaking though, unlike poker, there is no face to give any clues, just four different websites with weather forecasts and none of them agree.

And with that, this week has been sky watching, grass drying assessing and getting hay turners and balers ready (auto correct seems to think I should have been baking rather than baling; I haven’t, unless you count spreading the grass to ‘bake’ in the field. The Mini Crofter would probably have been very disappointed with that type of baking though).

So Kenny, you may have retired from your country singing, but how about a new recording of ‘The Gambler’, but called ‘The Baler’, and along the lines of:

You’ve gotta know when to mow them,

Know when to spread them

Know when to leave them

Know when to row

You never count your bales

When you’re sitting in the tractor

They’ll be time enough for countin’

When the baling’s done

Braw banter.

With relatives (exotic ones, all the way from the US) coming for a flying visit in their whirlwind journey through Europe, I decided we better beef up their itinerary while they are here (I’ve seen pictures on Facebook of their stay in France). So…

A personal chauffeur (autocorrect is pants, that should have read Crofter) will pick you, your family and your belongings up from the train station (in a Suzuki Swift, one of the UK’s smaller cars to ensure full cultural experience; I’m borrowing it solely for this). The scenic drive home will allow you to fully take in the single track road without needing to drive at snail pace like most tourist drivers do to the annoyance of locals). It will give you a chance to enjoy the heart racing adventure like you’re in a Formula One car when in actual fact, I’ll be going a whole lot slower than you really think (part of this is due to road variations in width and do expect potholes).

Once at our destination, a tour of the estate (the terminology is used loosely, but it means help round up the sheep) will be followed by a hands on experience of crofting (you can help shear, I still have six to do). Dinner will be a ribeye roast from one of our very own huggable, horned beasts (it’s actually one of the steers that broke my electric fence, I don’t hold grudges, it was sent off with the ‘Steer’s blessing, see previous post for the full blessing).

Friday will be started off with a continental breakfast (while we can still offer it before we become fully Brexitised). The excursion for the day will be to the local national park (our place is more like Jurassic park so figure it’s better to go somewhere to chill). Tea will be provided by the local chippy and a selection of fish, black pudding, white pudding and haggis suppers will be bought for all to sample to ensure we help provide customers for vascular surgeons in the future, always plans ahead).

Saturday will commence with porridge to compensate for the previous night’s tea. A short trip will give the back drop of the setting of a crofting version of ‘Landmark’. Our version includes games such as ‘Pick up stones’ (rules: each person has a bucket, the count down timer will be set and the winner will have the most stones in their bucket). This will be done on the newly ploughed section. The top three winners will then have a chance to compete in the advanced championship (the rough bit with bigger stones; throwing the stone put or tossing chabers doesn’t help get work done; this though, helps keep our plough intact). Refreshing drinks will be provided during this time under the canopy of sunshine with cloud and possible showers; or showers, cloud and a chance of sun (depends which forecast you’ve looked at). The afternoon will be completed with enjoying a hogget on the Argentinian spit roast so that the full smoke aroma is attached to everyone, but will help keep away the midgies (we’ll keep that hidden until you arrive as I feel they need little introduction). Evening will commence with a quick trip to the local hall for a ceilidh (if they allow us in).

Sunday’s full cooked breakfast will be provided to ensure you cope till safely on the train to enjoy the extortionate food prices of whatever train company you are with that day.

We like to offer a high quality experience that encompasses all senses. Smidge, Deep Heat, and plasters are all included in this trip. May the banter be braw.

Everywhere you go…

Think the song is supposed to continue with ‘always take the weather’. Thinking crofting-wise, I always take baler twine everywhere I go (or at least that’s what it feels like). Although, the penknife follows suit at a close second, and then third place is ear plugs (tractors, brush cutters, lawnmowers can all be fairly noisy, although if you do wear ear plugs, the local postie can sneak up behind you without you knowing).

However, a recent excursion was to go to Edinburgh for two ‘treats’. Treats that did not require baler twine or ear plugs.

First, an all day trip to the Royal Highland Show (including going along to the Women in Agriculture Breakfast). The second, a trip to Cheyenne’s York Place to get a hair cut from Joe. Yes, Joe. Yes, the guy who was cutting my hair when I left the big sticks eight years ago. But if you want not just a cut, but someone who can look at your hair and take in your lifestyle: ‘I have two kids under 3, 12 cows and 11 sheep; I want stylish but I don’t spend much time sorting hair’ without going, ‘this woman doesn’t need a hair cut, she needs a psychiatrists’, is a good find! This is the guy who just seems to understand hair. Now, I’m sure there are other hair stylists at the same place who equally cut hair well. But, well, when you have a pro do a job well, you really don’t want to go anywhere else. So you go back. And don’t deviate (although I was introduced to Joe by a hairdresser called Kipps, a man who headed off to London after finally convincing me that hairdressers do not have to be on par with the dentist. A dentist usually means you come out worse than going in, which was my understanding of hairdressers).

If only I could offer our flock the same standards. I have no qualification in sheep shearing, my experience is fairly limited, and I have never been shown blade shearing. I think if any hair stylist looked at Chunky and Skyver, they would be horrified. Chunky is a Cheviot; Skyver is a Blackface. Two different types of wool (and different personalities too as Skyver tried to skyve the shearing, Chunky placidly lies there for you). Working on them and with them was very different. I still have all the Jacob and Shetland sheep to do. Hopefully I’ll improve as I want to try and use the Jacob wool in spinning. And because of that, am looking for ways to improve. Not to learn how to have a one way conversation with a sheep; ‘have you any holidays coming up, what are you going at the weekend, and the usual haircut questions. But, in the handling of them, so I get less bruises on my legs and I don’t feel like I’m trying to give the sheep a Mohican.

So along comes networking. One contact has led to another and I am hoping to go meet another woman who can show me a different way of shearing. I’m leaving the rest of the sheep until I get back. Will then need a ‘Croft got talent’ show and a panel of judges to give card marks.

P.S. Just like I need a hair cut, so too do the sheep. I have seen comments by people thinking we kill sheep to get wool! No one has yet told me I should stop going to the hairdressers because I won’t come out alive. And its better for my health to get my hair cut. Same for sheep. So if anyone wants to know more about what we do and why, feel free to get in touch (about sheep, if you want hair advise, go see Joe).

P.P.S. Joe, if you’re reading this, apologies for the photo. I appear to be much better at taking farming pictures than inside pictures.

Sunshine on Leith

The Proclaimers were in Inverness this past weekend. No, I didn’t go, I’m not really a concert goer. Besides, it’s the holidays. So while everyone else (in Scotland mind you) is putting up pictures of their holidays, I too thought I should post a picture of the Italian skiing holiday eating up the Mediterranean cruise holiday.

But, going back to The Proclaimers, their songs still sing away in my head. And as usual, they get applied to the workplace. ‘Sunshine beneath’ Works quite aptly while shearing Chunky. And man, that boy is big.

Now, the shearing isn’t perfect. But he got only one small nick. I am now struggling to stand upright. So two done, nine to go.

Now if anyone wants to make comments about my shearing, you’ll be signing yourself up as the instructor for blade shearing next year. I have four other people interested so just need a pro.