Donald Macsween reflects on a successful year on his croft on the Isle of Lewis
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
ABOVE and RIGHT: Donald feeding the sheep out on the moor
600 hens go through a lot of feed each week
David, who helps Donald each week, busy stamping eggs before boxing them