Keep calm and carry on

There may be Coronavirus out there, but on the croft, the seasons continue and we carry on. And one of these events is, the farewell of a steer. Yes, all of the last beast has now sold out. But, that does not mean an end; the first part of the process has been started for the next, the butcher is booked.

So, watch here or on Facebook for further news (and hopefully, the Covid-19 will not cause a delay) to filling the freezer.

Cows and cars

(This post was initially published back in November but for some reason ended up in the drafts section).

Ahh, amazing. Lewis Hamilton and his team have done really well in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix (information via the currently beloved BBC…). His research team must have converted his car onto the new fangled ‘cabbage rocket fuel’. Did his spinach burgers make him like Pop-eye and he has miraculously been able to push his car over four and a half thousand miles to get it half way across the world?

See, Hamilton is taking on a fight to cut his carbon emissions (or in his words, ‘to be kinder to the world’). So I decided to watch and learn. So far, he has opened a restaurant and he has been maintaining his ‘ day job’ from what I can see. But he seems to have taken a great dislike to our cows, and all the other cows in the UK.

Meanwhile, on the croft, 8 of our 11 cows have never been off the croft and have never been on a plane. They don’t do laps of the field just for the sake of it, not do they need gold plated helmets. They have helped improve the fields so we now get wader birds. Their manure gives our soil nutrients to enable our fruits and vegetables to grow by enrich the soil. Do we use equipment to help work with the cows? Yes, but I don’t do laps of the field for the sake of it. There is a reason (and yes, you can always ask to find out). Can Hamilton start putting a seed sower or plough behind his car to help provide local veg for his restaurant?

So Hamilton, you keep going with saving the plant, one courgette fuelled lap of Formula One at a time. I’ll go back to looking after the livestock and land, one mince and tatties portion at a time.

All you need is…

Coffee (no idea who sang the song, but I think they made a mistake with the lyrics, it should have read coffee).

Good day on the croft? Coffee

Bad day? Coffee

Well rested night (fat chance, but I can dream in the short spaced window of sleep)? Coffee

Normal night’s sleep? Still coffee

Stressed? Coffee

Inspired? Coffee

Yes, I go through a fair amount of coffee. Shame we can’t grow our own considering crofting, cows, and children all seriously increased my coffee drinking. Last week was no exception.

So my well organised plan of getting most things sorted (after getting the news that the Crofter wouldn’t be home for another week), didn’t quite follow suit.

Sunday I had to quickly separate out an unwell cow from the byre.

Monday I was phoning the vet for advise.

Tuesday I was getting electric fencing up to provide a section if I needed to get her in quickly. And the livestock trailer was sorted for an emergency trip.

Wednesday she made a turn (did she hear me discussing the abottoir with the vet or was it that she remembered my threat at calving time that one more problem and she would be mince).

Thursday, well, she was better than she was but was still not sure what is or was wrong. She had by that point started making noises for her calf (don’t get too sympathetic, he’s 9 months old and nearly the same size as her and all mum’s deserve a break from feeding two). Which means she was definitely better if she now wanted him back, but that had stopped her resting and recuperating properly. Thankfully it didn’t last long.

Now, most organising had to be done over Micro Crofter’s lunchtime nap. However, if I had needed to take her to Grantown. I would have had to have been there for 9am. The Mini Crofter is soon to start nursery. Which starts at 8.45am. What am I going to do if it happens on a nursery day (Yes, Ms/Mr School Office Person; Mini C will be late, as we have to drop a cow off at the slaughterhouse…). In this day and age I wonder if I would be more in trouble for going to the abottoir than my son being late or missing school, but let’s not ponder that now. We’ll cross that livestock trailer when we get to it.

(NB, the tractor is never left running with him in it!).

Best laid schemes o’mice an’ men…

Yes, but that is where I then disagree with Mr Burns. For from there, he wrote ‘gang aft agley’. But who am I to beg to disagree with the honourable poet?

Now poetry is not my thing (surprise, surprise). It doesn’t help put food on the table, keep the tractor working or ensure the cows are happy bundles of joy. It doesn’t help find the keys I lost. I don’t understand why someone has to write four lines of words when they could say the same thing in four words. But I’m not here to get a backlash from all the haggis eaters on Burns Night. At least the man did identify that the best laid plans do often go to pot though.

The Crofter was initially due home yesterday. On Wednesday I got the heads up that my little mental count down for holding the fort which was down go two, had to go back up to 9 days. And with that news, sudden emergency prioritising planning was needed.

Now, an extra week is not necessarily the issue. Two Wee Crofters, 11 cows and a dog is all I have responsibility for at the moment. The sudden issue was the weather forecast. Juggling boys and cows has been getting slightly easier recently. What hasn’t been easy is dealing with what the weather has been throwing at us. No nine foot deep blizzards, sand storms or needing an ark. It’s the mild, blustery, near gale force winds, intermittent with colder, lighter breezes but having a very thin layer of ice, that has been making feeding the cows a precision act.

I get my forecasts from the Carrbridge Weather Man and so can often look like a serious curtain twitcher when checking for updates. The reason is this. To put hay into the cows, we have to open the top door. Which is quite big and at a height more attuned to doing pull ups; which makes it look like I would be better suited with a qualification as a trapeze artist and stunt woman on blustery days.

And the byre isn’t the only thing weather dependent. As Gilly and her calf are outside, they too need hay. Except if the weather turned wintery, the tractor doesn’t cope too well (and pulling tractors out is really a two person thing which I don’t have, so I try and avoid the potential misshape).

So with the news of needing to prepare for another week, all of the cows have been slowly getting sorted before the forecasted weather change. Yes, sorting cows would take half a day if I didn’t have two wee ‘uns. But with a near three year old, we can suddenly be delayed because of the wrong socks. With a one year old, naps govern how long the workload is. Half a day’s work has to take three. But at least from yesterday, all cows are sorted for the next several days. Extra supplies have been given.

So may the wind lash, the heaven’s open and the snow fall (as you would expect in winter). Let’s go raise a toast to the haggis singing bard.

Say it loud, say it strong.

OK, so normally I just sit and type out whatever has happened during the day. These posts are not in-depth research posts, nor are they necessarily informative. They just cover the highs and lows of life. The wind swept hair and the gale force category four pose.

But this post is a little bit different. It’s something that has occurred, something that affects other crofters, tourists, and hits at the heart of a community. What am I talking about? Buth Bharraigh is a community cooperative run on the Isle of Barra, next to the ferry port which allows local producers and crafters (and a lot of them too) to come together; it runs the tourist information, has WiFi, good turnover, can get coffee, they have had awards, and they have plans for the future. The concept in itself is something many of us within our own communities are envious of. So what’s the problem? They have been told they have to move, away from their hub, away from where feet pass. That’s not all bad, I hear some say. But, distance is important. Location can be critical. Don’t believe me? How many people do you know who don’t need a remote control for their TV? Difference of ten steps can make or break it. Would you like it if your remote control was taken off of you? This may seem a petty way of explaining this but it highlights that location really is key. And the reason given by the council and their responses have been eye brow raising. It’s back to a battle of David and Goliath.

In today’s day and age, people often harper on about intensive farming, avoiding certain products, climate change, etc. Which is great, except, why then buy from a supermarket? Get orders from amazon? We all do it; it can be useful in our busy lives. But are we supporting the individuals? The independent businesses? Those working to invest in their community?

We recently did a Christmas Fayre. The majority of the stalls were women, quite a few had to watch children while running the stall. We don’t always get time to ‘showcase’ our work. Craft fairs can often be at weekends and over lunchtime. Add in for those of us who work the land, we have cattle to care for. Just because the weather is bad doesn’t mean we plonk in front of the TV, we don the waterproofs. And the children come too. Having a hub like this one is so beneficial to those producing. It provides the old fashion marketplace. The same concept to Notonthehighstreet. But this one is on the Barra equivalent of the High Street; it’s next to the ferry port. We can’t just sit back and say, oh well, it was good while they had it. Let’s see what we can do.

It’s at times like this I wish we could blow a bugle and get a call to arms. Individual people are up against The Council. So, want to be a part of a wider community? Shout this from your roof top (ok, not literally). But please, visit Sign the petition. Share this post on your own Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites; the more people see and share, the better. Based half way round the globe and saying how does it affect me? You may go on holiday to Barra, they have the tourist information (the beaches are stunning, why not go?). Do we want to loose the Crofting culture? Want to let just the big firms and farms rule the roost and push over the wee ones?

Now, I’m not looking for a social media warpath. But we can campaign with coffee, cake and chat. Like and follow their Facebook page, share it, tag someone else. And let’s find out what we can do for Save the Buth.

P.S., Nicola Sturgeon and Fergus Ewing: if you could just send me a PM (no, not a Prime Minister, just a Private Message) to arrange a chat with the directors on this to sort this, I would be most grateful. Because, the underdog may not always win, but some battles are worth fighting for. The Scottish Government has been looking at Women in Agriculture. Let’s see the Crofters in that too.

All photos can be found on the Facebook page, Buth Bharraigh.

So long Chunky


You have been with us since our adventure with sheep began. You saved your ‘bacon’ countless times by being a Sheep-sheep, helping countless other sheep through gates and other scary trials. You always came to the whistle whether I had a bucket or not. However, you have now grown old. If you were an NHS patient you would have been provided with dentures, knee replacements and needing routine pedicures. But the croft can be harsh, the winter is turning its wet, windy and cold hand towards us and this is no place for zimmers and denture pots.

Your carbon footprint has been tiny. Your hooves have been able to explore the whole croft. You have been able to sit amongst the trees under the hot sun, you have taken refuge in the field shelter when the weather has thrown it’s wrath. You have meandered through the green, green grass; and, you have trudged through bog but we’ll ignore that point (and we are working on drainage).

So we bid adios and we will see you in a different form in two weeks. May A & I Butchers return you with a full array of roasts so we can raise a toast to you.

In the still of the night

The twinkling stars, the silver moon, the heavy frost giving a white carpet, the occasional owl hooting. Ahh, the tranquility…Well, as long as you block the echoing bawl of one of our cows. And why? Well, the new hay shed was finally completed, hay was finally shifted out of the byre and in went bedding straw, water switched on and the hay feeder filled. The cows didn’t really think twice. That is, all bar one. A calf from this year. And with that, a spritely young thing that can prance across a large field with minimal effort. The mission was finally aborted and the decision was taken that he would stay out and we would try again in the morning. Did the mother seem to notice? No, she seemed to be enjoying her freedom, her spa like treatment and the new wine and dine menu offered in the byre with all the mod cons. That is, until about 10 o’clock at night and she decided she better let him know where she was. And not just him, and us, but the whole glen would have heard her! Aghh.

But that wasn’t all. Jonny decided he still didn’t want to follow the herd after a night of noise. Answer? The two of them have got the whole field by themselves.

We all need sleep!