Am Bratach No. 256
One creature common to nearly every croft used to be the chook, especially around the dunghill and often on the house doorstep where they left evidence of their visit.
The bird was very important to the household. It held its place with the cow, horse and the pig. Somewhat like the tattie, different breeds and strains went through phases of popularity. A good layer might not make a good table bird and a good table bird might be a bad layer and so much swopping of egg settings would be tried and roosters traded. But the bird itself had a very free existence, scratching and lying up in their favourite spots all day and coming into the henhouse at dusk, very seldom to be locked in.
Occasionally a fox or a weasel would strike but this was very rare and the local keeper was soon on the spot to trap the culprit. But now it is a sad fact that free range hens are almost a thing of the past and all because of a menace that did not exist within Sutherland until just a few years ago, the Pine Martin.
In our district there has been
a chook revival: hens were the in creature and new
flocks appeared all over the place. But sad to say, the pine
martin has wreaked havoc and many tragic incidents recorded.
I suppose the creature is drawn north by the proliferation of
new pine forests and just why it should still be a protected
species is beyond me. It is something like the goose over-protection
issue that bugs crofters in the west.