Counting eggs (and sheep)

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The Crofter has nearly been home a week and lo and behold, nothing in the ‘exciting/terrifying/‘no-one-will-believe-me’ category of crofting life has occurred. I don’t count the sudden pick up of the chicken’s egg laying as even remotely in the category. The Crofter has been manning the place with the Mini Crofter while I have been back at work this week. And judging how it’s going I’m wondering if I have an uncanny knack of causing whirlwinds (not personally but some people seem to have smoother rides than others, and those of us in nursing all know that if you’re on shift with certain colleagues you are in for a rough ride).

So, as the midnight oil slowly ticks away towards dawn, I am awake, a mind that’s refusing to close for the night and no amount of counting sheep, eggs or moles is doing the trick. The difference in the morning is yes, I’ll be tired but I’ll be indoors for ‘work’. And there lies what I miss. Crofting means outside, stiff breezes, torrential rain and all kinds of weather to help keep you awake and blow cobwebs away. Instead, it will be coffe and a distant hope that by Thursday I’ll be back outside…with the mattic flattening mounds along a previously dig ditch as I dream of the lawn mower coming back out. Until then, I’ll go back to counting sheep.

Mountains and mole hills

We have a mole. Not a mole that steals your secrets and sells them on to foreign intelligence services (I can’t imagine MI5 needing to send a spook to our croft but you never know). But the true, furry types that make mole hills. And no, I’m not making mountains out of mole hills, I was out trying to flatten mole hills so we don’t end up with bumpy ground later on.

Yes, the snow has mostly gone, the landscape looking very different to most of January. Very much greener, but now with mole hills, everywhere! The sun shines, well, on the first day home for the Crofter. No gale force winds, no snow, no blizzards. So, as the ground was bare, out came the tractor for a bit of therapy (for me, not the Dexter). Usually anything involving grass/fields on a tractor is highly satisfactory (well, until you realise you’re driving close to the neighbour’s house with one of them on night shift; oops, head to far side of field away from their house).  As the rain comes across the field in sheets and hits your checks with a sting, you have the satisfaction of your job. The field may not be looking aesthetically pleasing but the hills have been flattened so we can start new with dealing with the problem. Because yes, as much as they look ‘cute’, some of our land has the issue of mounds that were not dealt with in the past and so are now much harder to deal with and cause issues when flail mowing, hay making, or really anything you try and do to improve the ground.

And no, to catch moles you do not need full waterproofs that match he colour of your tractor. I just had them for what is a ‘little’ rain to put you off going out. Dress for the weather and you can enjoy yourself regardless. Shame I didn’t have longer to work on it, I could have done nice neat rows. But hey, the reeds will need topped soon.

Ring feeder two-step

Working on a croft means your ‘office view’ is not stationary, nor boring. One regular view is from the tractor although the ability to see out was slightly hampered at the weekend. A friend was up visiting so I decided to make use of her (no, I did not send her out to do 15 hours of manual slog work, I’m not that cruel to guests). I took the opportunity and decided to give the cows their bales a day or two early. Much thought was pondered over this due to the snow level and the forecast of a thaw to come. I eventually decided to go for it and several spinning wheels, sliding tractor and multiple times needing to stand on the diff lock pedal, the task was done.

Well, you then just need to take the bale wrapping off. Normally easy, but not on either bale! The straw bale had had a foot of snow on it making it look like a gigantic sugar coated shredded wheat. And for whatever reason, the snow seemed to just stick to the wrapping. Out came the penknife before moving onto the hay. Hay that I placed into a ring feeder so to unwrap you look like your dancing the maypole. Except, this too was seriously stuck down. So, through the ring feeder bars I went, thankful I haven’t been eating too many pies (yes, you can go over it but leg length means it’s easier to squeeze through. This then changed from a maypole dance to a ring feeder two step. Using force to pull up the way meant if I balanced on the edge of the ring feeder I could get the wrapper off.

Mission finally accomplished, sense of wanting to jump down and act like a Formula One winner: high. Except the postie was due soon and I like to behave as normal as I can when he’s about. Who knows what he would pass on to the neighbours, glen and Strath…

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As it turned out, it was a good decision. Breena, one of the cows got a gash in her leg so having clean straw is better. The weather Sunday turned to an almighty blizzard creating snow drifts in all the wrong places. And with that, my back up support (aka mother-in-law) was unable to get out to us today.  Wonder what the view will be tomorrow?

Barmy BBQs to battling blizzards.

I may never climb Mount Everest, scale across Antartica, or win a rally race but there are some days that you feel like you have done all of the above, in a short space of time and over little ground. But there is no medal, no sponsor donated equipment, no champagne bottle to celebrate. You just get to feel accomplished while on your own, with a wee ‘un in tow. And think, ‘Ooo, I get to do the same tomorrow’ or ‘I may need Noah’s Ark tomorrow if this thaw really does take place and then it’ll feel like I’ve rowed the Atlantic’.

This morning’s snow tornadoes did little to stop the Mini Crofter and I from checking on the byre’s water situation. Yesterday the weather was more suited to the Swiss Alps as a good friend was up visiting and we sat out in the midday sun like mad dogs and Englishmen, enjoying the tranquility over a BBQ. As the sun disappeared it became very cold, rapidly. And with the cold weather I knew the byre was at risk of freezing. However, all seemed well this morning if not breezy from the south and shifting some snow about.

Fast forward 5 hours, and I was returning home to find snow drifts on the council road. Not a great sign but my optimism remained as I turned onto our track. Half way along the battle began. Landmarks such as fence posts, ditches, etc were used to figure out where the road was but soon I was on open ground and the drifts meant the pick-up started struggling. We were nearly home when we came to a complete standstill, neither going forward or back. As it was a short distance I stupidly decided not to use a sling but carry the Mini Crofter and his emergency bag back to the house. Think animated cartoon, two steps away from the vehicle and we both nearly ended up face first in the snow. The wind was so much more forceful than I had anticipated, nor had I realised how deep the drifts were. At that point I was thinking ‘Ach, once he’s asleep for his nap I’ll dig a path through and get the pick up back to the house. Ha! The drifts were about a foot deeper by the time I went past to check on the cows. Even worse, my footprints in the snow were gone. The wind wasn’t wasting any time. And lo, the cows’ water had frozen so round two, out goes the kettle.

The calves in the field had noticed the kettle trip (term kettlebells comes to mind but not in the corrrct usage) and they were certainly wanting attention. With the wind I decided to take their nuts over to the field shelter to avoid empty buckets ending up two Straths over. Half the journey across was on frozen grass. The second part was more than knee deep in snow, fighting off three eager calves and carrying three buckets in a way to avoid them carrying me off. After reaching the destination I stopped to get my puff back before the onwards and upwards journey continued.

Next was the chickens. The count in the coop indicated three were missing. A quick search showed they had been stranded in the spare coop and had been unable to get back. Their Crofting Rescue Service provided each of them with an airlift back to the coop and the bonus of food and water.

On days like this I think I should have just stayed home! It is due to warm up which should clear a lot of snow, typical as the Crofter is due home in four days. Might need a boat by then, at least the ducks will like it.

 

Give it some welly

My wish list is expanding. Snow shoes (for getting to the chickens and up to the ring feeder), nonleaking boots, nonleaking wellies, non leaking waterproofs, a snow blower, a snow plough for the buggy, skies for the buggy.

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After yesterday, snow blower is at the top. And the frustration of a fitness tracker also peaked. Shovelling snow is pretty hard going. Keeping paths cleared out of the house and to various sheds, gates, etc is very useful. It may not have to be done but if not, you (or really I) suffer the consequence of compacted snow that forms an ice rink for the next month. It’s also better to deal with it as it comes rather than waiting until you have lots of it, or so I feel.

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Wednesday was spent several times keeping the main paths clear (door to boiler room, wood shed, chickens, and gate to top field) as the heavy snow flurries were on and off. Yesterday, I set my sites further afield. No, I did not clear a field although it did feel like it. I decided it was a good idea to clear the entrance to the byre. See, our tractor is not four wheel drive and even with the diff lock it can have problems on ice or compacted snow. And after helping to fish a man and his vehicle out of a verge due to snow this week I really didn’t want to be in a tractor that lost control (I have a fear of tipping a tractor so I usually approach all angles with caution). While feeding our cows in the byre I envisioned the tractor compacting the snow on the way in and then not being able to reverse because it had made an excellent toboggan run. Pre-thinking of potential problems makes lighter work later. And I’m all for maximum efficiency with minimal effort. So, out came the snow shovel and an hour and a half later I had cleared a landing strip to the byre door, a section so the door can be opened, as well as a path through the handling area to the other door. All the while wondering how much a snow blower would cost and decided I really didn’t need as many layers.

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And this is where the problem with the fitness tracker comes in. When you are shovelling snow, bent over and heaving it into piles, scraping it off to the side, it says yes, I have moved but not exerting much, for it doesn’t notice you taking any steps.  It didn’t even ask if I had been active! Even if it had though, my options to chose include: walk, run, weights, cross train, bike, stationary, elliptical, cardio, zumba, yoga, pilates, dance, tennis, soccer (it’s an American company), basketball, swim, hike, ski and ‘other’. Whoppie, most of those I never do. I don’t think feeding the calves while keeping the sheep at bay is what they classify as yoga even if it is a unique pose you would never find me doing anywhere else. I think they need to make variations of the fitness tracker app for those in agricultural; chasing sheep, moving feed bags (20 or 25kg bags), shovelling (snow or dirt), moving stones, baling hay, tossing hay when the spinner breaks down, shoving bales, the list could go on.

So, the area around the byre is clear. If more snow falls it will be easier to clear. If it turns icy it is easier to put down grit. If it turns milder it won’t take as long to dry out and cause less problems in the weeks to come (yes, weeks because even if it warms up it take ages to thaw). I guess I could just add a four wheel tractor to the wish list but think a snow blower sounds more fun.

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Tough as old boots.

A woman may never have enough shoes but having one pair of nonleaking boots would be good. And nonleaking wellies, and nonleaking waterproof trousers while I’m at it. Heels may be useful for reaching the top door of the byre but think I’d go for a tough-as-old-boot style, the type I can wear feeding the chickens, trudging up a hill, at the mart, with crampons and into town, all the while not looking like I’ve just arrived from the outback.

My current boots have served me well, they have hung on a lot longer than their first prognosis but their time has come. My wellies on the other hand have had a sudden twist of fate and the gash in the side means my sock usage per day has spiked.  Now, the confession about the waterproofs…they aren’t mine but the Crofter’s! I discovered that his have been more breathable and workable than mine so was just borrowing them. However, the past few days they have been leaking. Initially blamed on the deep snow and snow flurries for snow getting where it shouldn’t but two days later I’ll admit they just aren’t working as they use to. Not leaking a huge amount but it won’t be long before they start taking on water like the Titanic. Shopping trip needed soon at this croft but maybe not the average woman’s shoe shopping trip…

Blowin’ in the wind.

First, the weather turned and although the BBC was telling me it was ‘light’ wind, I disagreed and picking up bits of wood blown over fences would suggest otherwise. Then, the forecast stated gale force. I was suspicious. Would it really be more than the previous two days or were they thinking of just making it up for the low numbers? Everything by now was firmly tucked up so little required in preparation.

On the day itself I will admit it was a tad bit blustery to say the least. The dilemma: Mini Crofter’s naps are outside and if you bring him in, he usually wakes up (avoid at all cost). As to where he gets parked outside depends on what I’m doing, weather, and how much snow is on the roof. In this situation, normally the ‘west wing’ is the preferred choice as it is out of the hoolie that blows in off the hills behind and not affected by the postman. This wind was different and was being canny hitting all sides of the house. Various attempts at different spots showed the north side as the least blustery with the porch offering a bit more protection. And, it had a potential anchor point. The window boxes may not have been installed as a buggy tethering point but they worked pretty well to ensure buggy and Mini Crofter stayed safe. It did take a bit of problem solving as to what to use as two bungee cords were already in use to tether down his blankets, leaving only one. No more bungees? Graduate to ratchet straps.

Now, the weather may not have blown over the buggy but there is no mention in the instruction manual as to what wind speed is suitable for it. Note to all buggy makers: hooks for attaching ropes, bungees, Shepard’s crook wouldn’t go amiss and if you could tell me what wind speed would tip the buggy I would be most grateful.

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