A crofter’s life
By Donald Macsween
Lambing is now a distant memory, but I always find it helpful to look back and assess how things went. I must admit that this year felt like the toughest lambing season for a number of years. While I was successful at getting lambs into the world alive, keeping them that way was a different matter.
This was a particularly tough year for twins. Sheep were keen to abandon either one or both lambs and negligible grass growth until mid-May didn’t help matters either. I wasn’t alone in having difficulties, with a number of other crofters reporting similar stories. Another hindrance was that grass growth seems to be later and later each year, so I think now I will have to push the lambing start date back a week or two. Many hill flocks in the north of Scotland don’t start lambing until the last week of April, while many of us in Lewis start in the first week of that month. I have ranged from 28 March to 23 April over the past few years and think I’ll go for around 15 April next year. If the grass comes earlier, I won’t be complaining, but hopefully the feed costs won’t be as bad either.
A plastic coat
My innocuous photo of a lamb in a plastic coat (above) caused a little bit of a stir and ended up in some newspapers in Scotland — anything to keep them dry. While on the subject of sheep, I was hit with a bolt out
of the blue in the final days of May. I had been away for a post-lambing weekend and returned to find a handful of sheep losing a suspicious amount of wool. I phoned the vet immediately and was informed that there was an unconfirmed case of sheep scab near me and that he would come out and test my sheep. By the time the vet arrived, the other case had been confirmed and I later found out that it was right next door. My sheep came back inconclusive, but given that there was only a single fence between them, I took no risks and treated all of them as if they had it. This is the second year in a row that we’ve had an outbreak in the district and I hope we don’t have to restrict movement like last year. That was a huge inconvenience at the time, although I can absolutely understand why it has to happen. One advantage is that injecting all the ewes and lambs means that they will have very little scouring and so should be clean and in good health for the summer — you have to find the positives.
Two heifer calves bring delight
I have now experienced my first proper calving season. I am still waiting for the third and final cow to give birth, but I am delighted with two heifer calves from the first two. They both caught me slightly on the hop, as I wasn’t 100 percent sure what signs to look out for and both calves were on their feet when I arrived. I hadn’t realised how big a deal my first calf was for our village. Lots of people came to see it and the older crofters told me that it’s the first calf born in our township since the early 1980s. My mother says it is the first calf born on our croft since the 1960s. Cattle went out of fashion in the ’80s, as the tradition of keeping a cow for milk was dying out and agricultural subsidies encouraged greater sheep numbers. I’m delighted to be doing my bit to reverse that trend.
Finding some me time
While I love being a full-time crofter, I have always found that it is important to have something that gets me away and allows me to focus on something completely different.
Football has been that release and I have been goalkeeper for my local team for most of the past 18 years. Things have been going well for us this year, which always makes it a little easier to enjoy being away. We recently had a couple of trips to other islands and the mainland. David, who helps me on the croft, started attending matches last year and now comes everywhere. He loves getting kitted out in his Ness FC gear ( below).
It’s the first calf born in our township since the early 1980s
This innocuous photo of a lamb in plastic coat ended up causing a little bit of a stir and found its way into some newspapers in Scotland
Donald with the popular lambskin rugs. The skins would have been sent to landfill had Donald not taken them back and had them processed
David joins Donald away from the croft, too, following their football team wherever they play. The pair travelled on the ferry to Uist
Two of Donald’s three cows have calved, with the third imminent
Donald’s neighbour spotted a lamb that looked as if it had lost all the wool around its middle. When they caught it, it turned out to be an old plastic bucket