A crofter’s life

By Don­ald Mac­sween

Country Smallholding - - Inside This Month -

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

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