Life on the croft

Don­ald is happy with how his lambs are com­ing along at his croft on the Isle of Lewis

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Don­ald Mac­sween’s up­date

As we move into the au­tumn, I must ad­mit that I start to ap­pre­ci­ate the days get­ting a lit­tle shorter. I have worked hard this sum­mer and of­ten work out­side un­til it gets dark, which trans­lates into long days in the height of sum­mer. Time for me to slow down now and take it a lit­tle eas­ier. There will still be plenty work to do in the au­tumn and win­ter, just less time in which to do it!

My first task is to sell some lambs. I bought my­self a weigh crate ear­lier this year and put it to use for the first time, when I was choos­ing lambs to go to slaugh­ter. I put ewes through the crate too and it was eye-open­ing to re­alise that my es­ti­ma­tions for ewe weights were as much as 25 kilo­grams off in some places. This will make it much more ef­fi­cient when it comes to treat­ing an­i­mals with drench or in­jec­tions.

I wrote pre­vi­ously about how I was happy with how my lambs had been com­ing on, and that is still the case. I have around 20 lambs in and around the 40kg weight that I’m aim­ing for and I have a full or­der book for my first trip to Ed­in­burgh and Glas­gow with the fridge van. I’m re­ally ex­cited about this, as last year was a bit of an ex­per­i­ment. This year I have my pric­ing sorted and some re­peat busi­ness – that’s al­ways a good sign.

I know it seems a long way to go to sell some lamb, but the lo­cal mar­ket is quite sat­u­rated with meat avail­able, and I see a def­i­nite gap in the mar­ket for my pro­duce. I’ll have at least one more main­land trip this year, with pork and lamb.

With the longer nights ahead, I’m also go­ing to have time to grade and sort this year’s He­bridean wool. I had some spun into yarn last year and that sold out over the sum­mer, so I am go­ing for a big­ger batch this win­ter – hope­fully that will sell out too!

New heifer

I’ve been a cow keeper for a year now and I wish I had branched out into cat­tle years ago. My two High­landers have been a plea­sure to look af­ter, so much so that I added an­other heifer re­cently.

I trav­elled south to the nearby is­land of

North Uist to col­lect a two-year-old black High­land heifer called May. North Uist is an 80 mile drive, fol­lowed by an hour ferry jour­ney away, mean­ing that it was a 12 hour day to go and col­lect her. As with all the an­i­mals I have, tem­per­a­ment is vi­tal. I don’t want to have to be on edge when han­dling them, and May has fit­ted in beau­ti­fully. She was or­phaned as a calf and hand-reared, so she is even friend­lier than the older cat­tle.

Fol­low­ing her ar­rival, I also had Dougray come for a visit. Dougray is a young Shet­land bull that I have hired lo­cally. Last year I had the use of an Aberdeen An­gus bull but un­for­tu­nately the one calf that was left was still­born. I de­cided to go for a smaller breed this year, to en­sure that the calves are smaller and should be de­liv­ered with ease. I in­tend to fin­ish the calves my­self and sell them as beef, so I am not overly con­cerned about size and growth rate; it’s more about qual­ity than quan­tity.

Dougray ar­rived in July and ap­pears to have done the busi­ness in his first week, so I should be look­ing out for calves in early May.

Goats? Never again!

If you ever hear of me con­sid­er­ing keep­ing goats, please slap some sense into me! This sum­mer, I gladly looked af­ter a pair of goats for the lo­cal col­lege. My youngest brother, Martin, at­tends Lewis Cas­tle Col­lege in Stornoway, and his class looks af­ter the goats, Bar­bara and Iso­bel, as part of their weekly ac­tiv­i­ties. The lec­tur­ers asked if I’d be pre­pared to take them on for the sum­mer months, and I was more than happy to do so. Oh, what a naïve fool!

Day 1 was all smiles, as Innes greeted them and they made their way onto the croft with some sheep, be­side my par­ents’ house. That didn’t last long, though, as they had jumped the fence and were in the gar­den next door within an hour.

I moved them closer to my own house that evening, as they could do less dam­age there – so I thought. Over the next few weeks they broke into the hen houses, my egg pack­ing Por­ta­cabin, my house, my pick-up, my van, ba­si­cally any­where they could. The Por­ta­cabin was par­tic­u­larly pop­u­lar, as they learnt that they could eat eggs AND egg boxes in there. Ev­ery sin­gle op­por­tu­nity, they would be straight in the door.

Don’t get me wrong, these were two lovely an­i­mals, with bags of per­son­al­ity. If a fence could hold them, they would have been a joy to have around, but as soon as the col­lege lec­tur­ers went back to work, the goats were re­turned to Stornoway.

Never again, mark my words!

Award-win­ning croft

I don’t of­ten en­ter shows or agri­cul­tural com­pe­ti­tions, but I do make the ef­fort to sup­port my lo­cal show, the West Side Agri­cul­tural show. It cov­ers 20 mile stretch of the west side of Lewis, from Port of Ness to Shaw­bost. I’ve only shown stock there once but I do reg­u­larly en­ter the ‘Best Worked Croft’ com­pe­ti­tion, and was chuffed to win it this year, for the first time. David at­tended the show with me and he col­lected the shield on my be­half. We were both de­lighted!

Back to TV

I’ve been back film­ing this au­tumn, record­ing the tenth se­ries of Farpaisean Chon-Chao­rach, BBC Alba’s sheep­dog trial pro­gramme. My co-pre­sen­ter, Ca­tri­ona Macphee, and I have been part of the sheep­dog world since we started out way back in 2008. This year we are cov­er­ing the Scot­tish Na­tional and the In­ter­na­tional sheep­dog trial. I love at­tend­ing these tri­als. We’ve be­come good friends with many of the han­dlers and other peo­ple in­volved.

We spent three days cov­er­ing the Scot­tish Na­tional, just out­side Pit­lochry in Perthshire, while we are due to head to Glouces­ter­shire for the In­ter­na­tional, where the top 15 han­dlers in Scot­land, Eng­land, Ire­land and Wales all face each other and one of them will win the Supreme. We’ve been all over the UK and Ire­land cov­er­ing tri­als over the past decade, although I don’t think I’ve been to Glouces­ter­shire be­fore. I’m just hop­ing that the weather is bet­ter down south!

Some of the fin­ished lambs. They will be sold as meat boxes, while their skins will be sent to a tan­nery

A weigh crate has helped en­sure sheep re­ceive the cor­rect dosage and that lambs are the cor­rect weights

David Mathe­son, who helps Don­ald on his croft, is de­lighted to col­lect the prize for Best Worked Croft

The ex­ist­ing High­land herd has been joined by May (left) and Dougray (right)

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