Wind the bobbin up

Little did I know that having a Mini Crofter would open up the realms of children’s songs. And therefore, tunes that get stuck in my head while performing tasks. Such as winding in electric wire to allow sheep and steers access to the woods in winter when the time comes to it. Neither are in the field yet but if the weather turns and they need more shelter it will be ready and waiting for them. However, it would appear that the wire had been tampered with by intruders from the hill. Never mind, venison stew for tea tomorrow.

Wind the fencing in,

Wind the fencing in,

Pull, pull, tug, tug, argh!

Wind it back again,

Wind it back again,

Trudge, trudge, unknot again.

Walk to the end gate

Walk to the post

Walk to source the culprit

Walk to make a roast

Brown Fridays

The United States has Black Fridays, the UK seems to be taking this on. But on the croft, it could be any day really, but it’s more of a brown.

Yes, the cattle handling area needs regular cleaning. So while some spend time spending money on shopping, why not spend time getting to know where your food comes from and the work involved? It’s not all glamour work but even shifting muck that will then rot down to be added to the soil in the vegetable garden can give a better understanding of plant and animal based foods. Welfare of animals and their upkeep are fairly important. As we head towards Brexit and possible trade deals with countries that have different standards, it seems that now is the time to start getting to grips with understanding food and making choices about what we eat. As they say, don’t make assumptions that just because something is reduced in a sale doesn’t mean it’s a bargain; the same can be said for animal welfare and meat quality. Just because you think a said country has high standards, doesn’t mean that’s what will end up on your plate. And even something basic such as keeping the handling area clean, can affect the health of our livestock. So unlike the newly adopted yearly Black Friday brown days are much more common.

Lesson for the Mini Crofter: time spent together can be of more value than money spent together. That and sweeping up muck is better if you use the brush the right way up.

Beef up and be herd!

Crofting and having an active Mini Crofter means a lot of time is spent outside. Under the current situation of having a soon to be Micro Crofter, that means feeling puddled in the evenings. Yes, this is when I often turn to news outlets, social media and the like when I’m not looking to engage brain in the next ‘research project’ (ie, what do I want to know about now: sugar levels in grasses, the life of worms, VAT and booking keeping, to more recently quality meat Scotland information). And with that it was not hard to miss the new ‘research’ that red meat should be taxed.

I am amazed at the way media outlets phrase wording. At least a reasonable amount of people seem to read articles with a critical eye (not that they think there may be anything wrong but to approach these information points knowing that the view of the journalist, or who they think their target audience is, affects how and what is written). However, it also appears that a lot of readers don’t bother with detail, quite happy for general comments to affect their sway and can’t see any reason why researchers would need to disclose affiliations. Yes, I am of the opinion that research into red meat will be affected by a person’s vegan belief. These types of articles that label ‘red meat’ as everything, when the research defined processed foods will have a huge impact, not just on people’s diet (I’m more than happy promote people to take on a balanced diet), but to those of us who caretake livestock, abattoirs, butchers and consumers. We as a nation will be impacted in several ways.

Now, I am not normally a ‘political campaigner’ or some type of ‘activist’. But the situation around the red meat tax did make me decide to be more outspoken to raise several points about red meat that seems to be getting missed.

While pregnant with the Mini Crofter, a blood test showed my iron levels had dropped to below standard. I increased my red meat intake. This was done with the understanding we (the GO and I) would therefore monitor it and reassess if required. The side effect of iron tablets was something I wanted to avoid. Having the opportunity to eat a natural source of iron (steaks, diced, roasts) meant I didn’t have to go near heavily proceeded foods or tablets made in a factory. Through diet (odd way to say increasing red meat), my iron levels were maintained. Would I have taken iron tablets if this hadn’t been the case? Yes, I do realise that sometimes we need to turn to prescriptions (so don’t take this as any argument whatsoever to stop prescribed medication). However, the health benefit of the situation doesn’t seem to have been heard of by the many news outlets who published articles about the red meat tax lobby. And if red meat is taxed/banned then the natural source option will be removed.

The likelihood seems that if we as crofters, the caretakers of cattle and sheep, as well as smallholders, farmers, and independent butchers stay quiet, we may all be out of jobs in the near future. Supermarkets have already taken over some slaughterhouses so that no private work can be done. This increases the travelling required of live animals. So yes, buying meat from a supermarket may be ‘easier’, but where has it come from, and by supporting supermarkets, what impact are you having on smaller businesses (not hard to be smaller than a supermarket), animal welfare, local produce and even as a nation?

As Brexit approaches and the potential of meat to come in from countries with very different standards to our current system, how do we uphold those putting the animal first and providing quality meat, to those who want quick, cheap meat (or even fake meat that can ‘bleed’ or replacement ‘meat’ that has twenty-odd ingredients from all kinds of different countries)?

So what do we need to do? Speak up and be heard. Not just as small collective groups, but join voices to help get the information out to consumers, ensure politicians have the education to know how to fight for us (yes, some politicians seem to know where their food comes from and how it impacts on people while others seem to be clueless) and support those who use and work the land to name a few.

An animal rights campaigner may send me messages telling me I’m being cruel keeping my cattle inside in winter. But I’m currently sat inside a house (aka, confinement) with artificial light and other ‘non natural’ things about me that I wouldn’t have if I was living in the woods. Do I need ‘released’ into the wild, to be set free? No, I would much rather be in a house thank you. Just like when the weather turns and our cows seek shelter, so we provide it. We have a polytunnel to help grow fruit and veg. That’s putting our plants through an unnatural setting, I’m forcing them to grow faster by sheltering from elements of the Scottish Highlands. Between the veg garden, polytunnel, soft fruit area, orchard, grass, and thus cows and sheep, we can be somewhat self sufficient. Manure helps our veg produce food as the plants we grow take out nutrients each year from the soil. Eliminate the cows and what could be done on our croft? I can’t live off of grass and trees. Nor can my garden keep providing me with vegetables when nutrients in the soil haven’t been replaced. But the issue is there, if we don’t speak up, we may hand over all farming and butchery to the ‘big guns’ to ensure supermarkets can provide their own supplies. Or, livestock are eliminated and the land will lie dormant. Our ability to be self sufficient would reduce as I have to turn to non local supplies. Not a potential I want for the Mini Crofter and the Micro Crofter. So time to start campaigning, beef up and be herd!

Wellymance

How does the Crofting Wifie spend a day with the Crofter while Mini Crofter Free? Take the livestock trailer to Dingwall Mart for the Rare breed sale to go shopping. Not poultry shopping, that’s a walk in, walk out situation at the moment for me (pregnancy can heighten nose sensitivity and for whatever reason for me, the chickens have been an avoid or baulk situation).

No, we were looking for sheep. I had been looking into different breeds to see what was suitable for our terroir and environment as well as what might suit as a dual purpose breed (wool and meat, not just one). So Jacob and Shetland were on my list. Not for breeding, just to trial how the two of us get on on the croft. Which led to a problem. I wanted wedders to ensure I had no risk of lambing. And what was mostly at the sale? Ram lambs. Uncastrated males. Now, I can see leaving some whole if they show good breed potential. But this limited our buying options (note to all rare breed owners, expect more for your money on wedders than ram lambs, it doesn’t cost much to ring your boys, well, the boys in the field…).

So our shopping trip got us a few of both breeds. Some do look remarkably similar to our neighbours’ zwartbles, just a smaller version (one way to agitate them, make them think you’re copying them or about to start active competition!). Which we’re not, and I’m sure they will have seen the size of our new ones to know that wouldn’t be the case.

The new sheep have been kept separate to ensure they are all healthy before joining our currant sheep. Today they all got a wee check up and pedicure if required. Easy enough to get them in with a bucket. Small enough to man handle. Well behaved Mini Crofter on the shed step so I can still see him. But, bending over to check and trim sheep feet doesn’t take too long before you remember you have a Micro Crofter yet to be born and bending over for a length of time is a) uncomfortable and b) creates heartburn. So the task had to be handed over to the Crofter while the Mini Crofter was taught about ‘purple spray’, the just-in-case medicinal spray of a bad foot. Not sure what other parents teach toddlers but he was getting the hang of holding it and passing it if required (aye son, you could be a theatre nurse too). But at least he’s learning to work together.

Wellymance, that quality time spent together, whether at the mart or holding onto sheep, where wellies are required. Which, before you get the wrong impression, I have a strong dislike of words getting combined: Brexit, cockerpoo (aka a cross breed). However, feel like I’m out of the loop if I don’t come up with my own so there’s my crofting version. I’m just off to find a hot water bottle for my back muscles though…

On the road again…

Not me, but lorry drivers on the road again. After my last fiasco with receiving animal feed while manning the croft, we decided to be better organised and ensure the next lot was done while the Crofter was home. No fear, he was home for four weeks and we made the order early. Ha, I think there is a reason East Coast Viners is cheaper than Harbro. Our pig food finally arrived…six days after they had told us and four days waiting around for a delivery. At least you can be out doing things, particularly after my last incident when they noted down our OS grid reference (no excuse for needing directions…).

However, as I took the Crofter to the airport, I was told that the bags of fertiliser he had ordered with the pig food had not yet arrived but had been told it would be while he was gone! This isn’t just wee bags of fertiliser from your local garden centre, these are massive bags so he had been kind enough to put a hay bale on the back of the Massey to ensure balance. Oh whoopie!

Wait a few days and then the inevitable happened. The lorry turned up. The man had parked down at the neighbours and walked up (yes, it was a massive lorry so didn’t trust being able to turn) and after looking at the area, he would bring it up but he was due his break. My response was, that’s fine pal but the wee one is due to wake up in 40 mins so you may end up either offloading or watching the Mini Crofter…He muttered he would pick the tractor option but promptly brought the lorry up. Good thinking. Thankfully, between the two of us (me guiding his lorry, him guiding me in the tractor got the four bags off loaded. All finished with 10 mins to spare before the Mini Crofter woke up, no damage to any buildings or the lorry and four bags of fertiliser ready to be spread.

I’ll take that driver back. Using a front loader is fine when you have lots of space. Start adding building, lorries and a time pressure and you start getting a wee bit nervous. Someone to guide you with very clear hand signals is very useful. I’ll just leave the fertiliser though until the Crofter’s home. I’m not sure delivery drivers are use to threats of babysitting…

A niche field

No, I’m not talking about a chocolate field or a marmite crop. But an area of agriculture that is pretty specialised-pregnancy in agriculture. Not the cows or ewes pregnancy, the vet can help in that and farmers. crofters, smallholder are all steeped in personal experience in it. But pregnancy related issues for the women who work in agriculture.

This returns to two photos from the Spirit of Crofting video that was done for the Scottish Crofting Federation. Both appear fairly normal.

Bottle feeding a calf. Correct, but it was late May. Temperatures were well above normal and you won’t be able to know I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt underneath and sweating like a pig due to the heat. Why waterproofs then? When the vet had arrived the morning that the calf had taken unwell, she recommended removing the Mini Crofter from the byre due to the risk of transmitting the disease to him (not normally a problem of being around healthy cows but there are some illnesses/disease that we can get from cows, this in no ways means don’t go near them as you are more likely to pick up the who knows what from a work colleague then when you are around cows). But this then put me in a bit of an issue. I was in early pregnancy. The Crofter was away so I couldn’t designate the job. At the time I just worked with the vet on the calf and did a near full body scrub afterwards at the house. Could I find out any more about the risk of working with cattle while pregnant? No, not a jot. In the end, we rang the vet back and asked a ‘hypothetical pregnancy related question’. The vet was unsure and not confident to give further advice. So, being a theatre nurse, my ‘infection control’ understanding and dealing with high risk situations came into force. Personal protective equipment it was. Full waterproof jacket and trousers, wellies, and a bucket and brush of disinfectant at the door. A full wash down before leaving, the entire lot left in the shed before a full surgical scrub to the elbows performed back at the house. OK, a bit time consuming, but the added issue was I was overheating in the layers and dealing with severe nausea. So, to the right of the picture is a chair. Another one was placed in the shed, and the sofas were waiting for me at the house.

I’m not looking for someone to start playing a violin and give me sympathy. But I did find out that it wasn’t just the vet who couldn’t give advise; I asked the midwife, who in turn had to ask the Obstetric Consultants. And no one gave any definitive. It seems to be such a niche market; yes, women work in agriculture. But why so little information about those who are pregnant in it? There is a rise in vets being female, so the situation is not just one profession.

This second photo shows another pregnancy related problem. I was over the due date by this stage (41 weeks + 3). The lack of practical maternity clothing was an issue (and I’m not taking about a pair of comfy trousers, but the need for outdoor wear). The photo had been taken after using the Dexta tractor to pull out the Massey Ferguson tractor from being stuck in mud when it had gone to give hay to the cows. Yes, the ‘new’ tractor was great at doing the heavy lifting, but not being four wheel drive meant it can be pants on the soggy mud. Besides, it then showed the old wives tale of ‘starting-off-labour-driving-over-bumpy-roads’ and the crofting equivalent doesn’t work. So yes, while on the l’ve-eaten-too-many-bacon-rolls belly front, waterproofs and other winter necessities could be worn, the boiler suits were completely omitted and I’ve sure there is a business scope for designer maternity Crofting wear.

What can I recommend from these photos? Not everyone is able to have children, so regardless of how much you want the ground to swallow you up, grit your teeth and try and stay upright. There really isn’t any ‘convenient’ time to be having children while crofting. Any season has got its issues. People don’t ask about having chairs dotted around; but they would if you fainted or was sick. So to keep things quiet, get chairs. And lastly, people have stereotypes, don’t conform to them. They may be horrified you drove a tractor while past your due date, but hey, if that’s so much easier than a bunch of other jobs, go for it.