Am Bratach No. 247
May 2012


View from the croft gate
by John MacDonald

By the time that this article is presented we hope to be well through the lambing, but as I write, it has just started. The yowes are very heavy and no doubt there will be a few that will jump the gun and arrive early. As the weather has swung to the north and is bringing with it hail and sleet showers, the lambs are better off where they are for the moment, but in spite of the cold weather the geese are heading over us in droves. They were not taken in by the unseasonal spell of summer which we experienced at the end of March. The sheep stopped eating hay as there was a green bite on the go and the bale that we put into the ring feeder remains virtually untouched. It will shortly be given to the cattle. The cattle are looking in good strip for Spring and have passed the winter with no problems to report.They will be taken in next week when we will get onto spring tasks like getting the calves full tagged, dehorned if required, and finished off with a squirt of Spot-on to keep the lice at bay. It will be a good chance to get a blood test done and comply with the mandatory BVD order 2012. Tagging animals is not a task that I look forward to but it seems inevitable these days if you are to exist as a viable unit. I cannot imagine that nature evolved sticking out ears on domesticated animals just so that we can hang tags on them, but we do. Another example of man’s exploitation of nature.

This last while I have tended to tag the calf with just its metal tag when a day old and still catchable, leaving the plastic tag until the calf is in a proper handling space and when help is at hand. Although the cows are very quiet, I always feel vulnerable when trying to tag a very young calf while on my own, trying to hold still a strong calf and the same time juggling plastic tags, metal tags and two lots of tagging implements. All this in the presence of an agitated mother, not happy with any interference to her beloved bairn. I guess that any mother would be agitated if we came along, grabbed the bairn while sleeping peacefully, wrestled it to the ground and started to make holes in its ears. The cries of distress from the infant stoke up the agitation of the mother. In such circumstances I deem it advisable not to hang onto the calf too long, it being not a task for aged crofters on their own, as many of us are. Health and safety comes to mind.

The spell of dry weather was grand for getting the place tidied up and bonfires were to be seen all around, ourselves included. There was much publicity surrounding the wild fires that sprung up throughout the Highlands and some indeed seem to have been a threat to houses and needed drastic action. But many were of overgrown gorse and really going nowhere and one wonders if there was justification for calling out fire crews at considerable expense when, if allowed to continue and perhaps monitored, might have gone for a few fences but in other ways was badly needed. A whin bush can be very spectacular and alarming when put alight, but soon burns itself out.

The good weather also gave opportunity to get on with some ploughing. The plan is to take a 1-year silage crop and next year to plough again and sow out into permanent pasture. Schemes are afoot to get the croft ditches and drains back up to scratch, then have a big reseeding programme, with the application of lime and phosphates to get the land into good heart. The old plough has resumed a new lease of life since its makeover. A few new bits and adjustments have worked wonders, especially the new socks. I work better myself with fresh socks on.

It is the time of year for the dreaded IACS form. I tried to ignore it and pretend that it was not there but in the end I had to bite the bullet and try and remember how the system worked. The first look is inclined to engender despair but once started the system begins to reveal itself. It is a task best undertaken when one is not likely to be disturbed or distracted. Our form is especially complicated on account of all the little schemes that we came up with to access an SRDP. At such times, one wonders if it is worth it. The IACS is another form that we are encouraged to fill in online, but I am having none of it as no computer help system will ever match our local Department staff.

I was very reluctant to undertake any gardening this year on account of the damage done by mice last year. They started off by eating all the peas and continued to devour mostly everything else. For a while I consoled myself in that at least the row or two of swedes were doing well and was rather looking forward to a good pan of broth and perhaps a side to a haggis. But when I went to pull a swede I had only an empty shell. I just ended up pulling what was left, put it on the loader and gave it to the sheep. When I was going down the road a mouse jumped from the loader and scarpered off. It must have been sleeping or hiding in one of the swedes, cheeky thing. So this year, since the plough is going better, I took up the hill behind the house and ploughed up a patch of green what was in the distant past, part of a the settlement which existed amongst our rocks and knolls and ceased to be cultivated when the crofts as presently laid out came into being, probably around 1810. It is a patch of ground that has often tempted me to bring into cultivation. Come each summer, it was a mat of bracken, and not a bad thing as bracken can indicate good soil. So the bracken was sprayed out and last year it was put under some tatties and black oats. This year the tatties are back again but in a different place and last year’s tattie patch is now going to be all vegetables — well, that’s the plan anyway, but you know what Rabbie Burns says about plans, men and mice.

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