Go­ing full time

Don­ald’s croft

Country Smallholding - - Inside This Month -

Iwrote last year how I had taken a sab­bat­i­cal from my day job with the lo­cal au­thor­ity, and spent the sum­mer fo­cus­ing on croft­ing work. My sab­bat­i­cal went so well that I never went back and re­signed from my job, to be­come that most elu­sive of beasts – a full-time crofter. There aren’t many of us around, but it is some­thing I have spent five years ac­tively work­ing to­wards. While I’d been fo­cus­ing on meat sales in the lat­ter half of 2017, the bread and but­ter of my busi­ness is egg pro­duc­tion – and I am a re­lieved man this year.

The UK-wide avian flu lock­down of 2017/18 re­sulted in a fi­nan­cial loss of around £ 5,000 for me, so I have been re­lieved that Scot­land (at the time of

writ­ing) has been un­af­fected by avian flu this time round. My egg pro­duc­tion in 2018 has been bet­ter than at any point in the four years I have been sell­ing eggs. My dad, a re­tired fish­er­man, helps me six days a week by col­lect­ing eggs and get­ting them ready for box­ing. This means that I can con­cen­trate on look­ing af­ter the an­i­mals, feed­ing them and do­ing other jobs – which is par­tic­u­larly use­ful dur­ing our short win­ter days.

There is one egg-re­lated job that I have grown to love, though – box­ing eggs! I tend to leave this un­til late at night or early morn­ing and it has turned into a highly en­joy­able chill-out time. I stick on the ra­dio and spend half an hour stamp­ing and box­ing the eggs.

The fact that I’m now full-time means I get to fin­ish my work at a rea­son­able time, in­stead of work­ing by torch­light 6.30am8am and 5pm-9pm most days. Much bet­ter for the mind and body. Now I get time to cast my eye over an­i­mals and make sure that they are in good con­di­tion and not lack­ing any­thing. I feel bet­ter my­self too, not as stressed or as ex­hausted – just as long as the bank bal­ance is OK!

One bonus has been get­ting to spend a lit­tle more time with the cat­tle this win­ter. They have been out on the open moor for sev­eral months, and have been thriv­ing out there. I try and spend a lit­tle time with them ev­ery day, keep­ing them happy and stop­ping them from wan­der­ing too far out onto the moor. I have to be care­ful with the white one, though, as she would hap­pily skewer me with her horns, given half a chance. Her calf was still­born last spring and I think it has af­fected her. Hope­fully she is in-calf and all will be bet­ter come May. I’m still wait­ing on my first calf, so that will be very ex­cit­ing!

I’m gear­ing up for lamb­ing now, with it all due to kick-off around April 7. I’m al­ways ex­cited about lamb­ing; it’s my favourite time of year. This year will be the most I’ve ever lambed, around 180 ewes in to­tal, with the last ones not due to lamb un­til well into May and early June. Our spring won’t start un­til April/May and we don’t get any de­cent grass growth un­til June, hence lamb­ing later. I’ve been feed­ing those scanned with twins since mid-Fe­bru­ary, while the ewes with sin­gles in them are fed on the moor and will re­main there un­til the week be­fore they start lamb­ing.

There aren’t many of us around, but it is some­thing I have spent five years ac­tively work­ing to­wards

600 hens go through a lot of feed each week

David, who helps Don­ald each week, busy stamp­ing eggs be­fore box­ing them

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