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