Thursday, March 8, 2012

Around the croft.


Time for a little wander around the croft today, and I will show you what's been going on, shall I?


The weather over the last month or so has been mainly like this - cold, strong winds and gales, and stinging hail showers, or else persistent rain. Everyone I speak to has something to say about it - even here where we get such a lot of difficult weather, it has been an unusual Winter.   It has been a bad year for the animals too. The handsome ram in my blog banner became the latest casualty at the weekend.  So hard to imagine that this fine creature is no more.  "Where there is livestock, there'll be deadstock too" sighed our neighbour,stoically, as he lifted his shovel - but he was deeply upset.


Still - there have been times like this, when the dark clouds blow over, and we have felt the promise of Spring - yes, it's coming yet.


But some tasks have not been accomplished.  John is studying a couple of the Gaelic degree modules at the UHI.  It has taken up much more time than he anticipated, and he has been out for the last couple of weeks doing a full time work placement. Improving his skills and speaking the language fluently is so important to him though, and it a big part of why we moved here.  Nevertheless, the combination of bad weather and the demands of his course, on top of all the other things we are up to has meant that the seaweed remains uncollected down at the shore.  It is too late in the year to do this now - it is a midwinter task, as the seaweed needs to compost down. Already there will be too many little creatures crawling around there  - millipedes and such like - not really what you would want in your garden soil.
It's not a big thing - hardly anyone collects this bounty now, but I felt it really marked the beginning of the crofting year - part of that ancient seasonal rhythm of tasks - not to mention the loss of a wonderful compost source.  Next year then...


So this year, our main source of compost will come from the cowshed. Delia and Baby have open access in and out of their byre.  There have not been many days when they haven't managed outside at some point, but we have been giving them their hay inside over these Winter months.  They have been housed on a deep litter system - as per Joel's advice, and when they do go out onto the common grazings for the Spring, we will have a wonderful supply of well trodden manure.  Still have to muck it out, mind you - I wonder if James will be up for that job?
We have the chance to buy another Dexter cross cow, from a lady who lives few miles away; still thinking that one over. Delia is getting on a bit ,and will probably only have one more pregnancy, and Baby will be 3 in the Summer - quite old to never have calved.  John has been on the AI course now, so we should be starting to try that in a few months time.  The cows have come through the winter reasonably well - although they have lost a wee bit of condition.  I thought Delia looked a bit thinner the other day.  Once the new grass comes through and they feel the sun on their backs, though - I am sure they will perk up - wont we all?


Our own sheep are doing well, and they had their own post last week, so I will leave them out today. We do, however, have some visiting sheep on the bottom field - they belong to DT, who gave Mick to us.  I mentioned the possibility of their arrival in my last  crofting post - and sure enough, they appeared soon afterwards.  John and a friend have been using them to train the dogs with. They are a very polite bunch of year old lambs - they patiently queue up for their supper, and they are quite tame.


Mick loves to be out there working - the weather (sorry) had held back his training somewhat - as well as his trainer being a novice too - but help is at hand, and apparently they are still on course for the trials in the summer. He is lying at my feet now as I type.

While we are still down at the bottom field, we can admire the now completed drainage ditches.  It looks a bit muddy in that picture, but the grass has already become to grow again. John, and our contractor and his Dad are discussing where the pipe should go.  This field will get a bit of a rest this year, once the visiting sheep have gone. I am not sure if we will be ploughing and reseeding it or not.


Back up at the house - the hens are laying well, and the one who was attacked by the dog is really on the mend. They are spending the rainy days hiding under our little stand of trees, along with all the debris blown in by the Winter gales, but as soon as the sun peeps out, they are spreading out their wings and sunbathing for all they are worth.  We seem to have acquired a three or four more hens - al least they eat and lay here.  They belong to our neighbour's large flock, and arrive in time for breakfast, spend the day, then wend their way home at night.  Our girls seem to put up with them fairly well.
And - remember Elvis?  He has an impersonator!  Elvis, despite being our cockerel, has never yet spent a night in our hen hut - he likes to roam around (oh no that was Dion wasn't it?).  No, each night, he goes home to Mum, two fields away, but arrives back at dawn to waken us and to spend time with his official wives. Then he started bringing a couple of girlfriends with him, which seemed fine by the other hens - and then one day, I thought I was seeing double - two Elvises (Elvii?). Since then, both Elvises and their associated ladies have been spending their days with us, and going back to the next door croft at night.  My neighbour, W, has a large flock of hens, presided over by Henly, The fake Elvis is his son, but W wants to keep him.  Henly doesn't care much for  him though, so he tends to stay out of the way as much as possible. He has a little harem of devoted fans, and they have all started hanging out at ours.  Real Elvis (with the rose comb) is fairly tolerant, so the arrangement works.  So confusing, and I am so sorry if you managed to struggle through all that - honestly it is like a soap opera - a sort of Chicken Dynasty.
Anyway, to avoid any further confusion, my neighbour, another friend from the village and I had a very serious debate over  coffee last week -what name to give the young pretender? We decided to stick with the pop star theme, as we have already have Elvis and Mick.  Many names were banded around and the merits of each earnestly discussed - Roy (my personal choice) Freddie, Prince, but in the end we settled on Cliff. It was a hard decision, and I am not sure I am fully on board, but the majority carried the day.


And so to planting.  The pigs will be leaving the stage soon, so raised beds will be built on the ploughed up garden.  Quite a big job to contemplate, but we have ideas about how we want to do that.  In the meantime, a more important project is happening.  The polytunnel has arrived.  This will be built next to the house, in a fairly wind sheltered spot.  John has dug the holes for the foundation tubes, and we await a dry day to concrete them in.  I have, in excited anticipation planted loads of tomato seeds in 5 different varieties.  I had big sowing afternoon early in the week, and now my spare room has become a plant nursery.  Trays of leeks, salads, chard and cabbages adorn windowsills and tables. My seed order has arrived, I have been back to the garden centre for bean tubes, more module trays and compost, all the rooms  in the house will be taken over by seedlings, and my sewing table in the loft is covered with trays of chitting potatoes.  This is going to be the best year yet :)

                                         x

And a final piece of news.  We are in the process of acquiring some more land!  Our original croft is not at the house, but down on the lower part of the village.  If you look at this picture, you can see our top field beyond that clump of trees - there - with the ditches curving down to the main drain.  We also have our bottom field on the other side of that house you can just see (I have marked it with an x).  We have around 3 acres all together.  It is fine, but we were beginning to feel a bit restricted, as we would like to expand out sheep flock a wee bit more, establish a small Dexter herd, but also grow some corn (oats/barley) and provide good winter grazing and feeding for the animals.  All the domestic food growing will be done up at the house, in the new garden and polytunnel.
One of our earliest New Year visitors was the brother of the couple who owned the croft tenancy next to the house. They had decided to sell, and wondered if we were interested.  Ermm - yes we were!
And so, the transfer application is currently leaping over the various hurdles at the Crofters Commission, as we wait for approval - hopefully sometime in April.  We have obtained permission from the current tenants to keep our in-lamb ewes on the croft though, so that is good.
The new croft is slightly bigger than the one we have already - about 4 acres I think.  It is divided into 2 fields, with a blackhouse ruin on the lower one.  James is walking around there in the picture.  It looks deceiving, and that the 2 crofts are actually close together, but due to the topography of the land, they are not.  Difficult to explain, but I will give you a wee tour once all the relevant boxes have been ticked.
Very exciting and our heads are spinning with so many ideas and plans for it...


...or maybe we'll just sit in the field and admire the view.
xx

32 comments:

  1. and WHAT a view!!
    Makes being so busy worth it.

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  2. Wow! I have been in Aberdeen for some time and the landscape reminds me of my trips to the highlands... wonderful. Thank you for these wonderful pictures. maria from austria

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  3. I see things are as busy in your part of the world as it is in mine. I wrote today about feeling overwhemed at times. I am but one, trying to do so many things. You and your family have a lot going on. The scenes from your life are beautiful....even the puddles of water. Take care and rest some each day.

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  4. Congrats on the new property! I look forward to a schematic or something so I can better understand the lay of the land. Love the photos--as always!

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    1. Good idea Karen a I might do that, and save everyone from my long rambles. x

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  5. Yeah I'd admire the view, for the moment anyway! Good luck Jacqui, it looks pretty complicated. Love your chicken saga, I just about followed it hehe :) Loads going on at your place, I love this time of year, so much to plan and look forward to xx

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    1. Lol - well done for following that - it was a bit of a confusing saga. I might revisit it in a calmer moment.
      xx

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  6. Thank you for sharing. I really should read your blog just before going to bed as I am sure I would have lovely dreams.
    I miss the poultry we used to keep. But we are into double figures with visiting pheasants now, surrounded by sheep and cattle and pigs. So not complaining.

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  7. Congratulations on more land, my husband loves land so I get it!
    Chicken Dynasty? You are too funny and I love the story!!!
    It looks like the whole world has as a strange winter. The 6 inches of rain we had over the weekend is gone and it's hard to tell it even rained!
    Now I am drowning in pollen! I can't believe I thought it was a good idea to plant acres of pines!

    I still haven't forgotten my swim to see you, just wondering how to pack my knitting!

    Have a great Thursday!

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    1. Poor you Tracey - I am seezing in sympathy.
      Never mind about your knitting - there is plenty yarn here xxx
      (for a minute there I was starting to believe this - lol)

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  8. What a lovely tour, good luck with your plans for the bigger croft space. Can't wait to see your polytunnel and hear all the goings on in there too - would love one someday, to help extend the seasons even further.

    Love those sheep lining up in the photo! Funny creatures!

    Hope the rainy weather gives you a break soon x

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  9. What beautiful photos! I so desire something like this when we decide to move. Must have all our ducks in a row first though! So wishing I could start planting indoors, as we are still in the midst of winter here in the middle of Canada, but I think this weekend I shall start the seeds that require 10 weeks until you can transplant. That will take us to almost end of May, when it is safe to plant with no risk of frost anymore. Send some rain our way, all we have is snow!

    Cheers,
    Dianna

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  10. You are busy...very busy.
    Love your pictures.
    I've been meaning to collect seaweed one year....do you just lay it on the soil? I wonder, sounds like a good plan.
    Enjoy the view....much love

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    1. It was traditionally laid on the soil as a winter mulch, then ploughed in come Spring time, but you can just add it to your compost heap and spread that on the soil. The rain will wash out the salt, so don't worry too much about that.
      I am thinking of that view right now xxx

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  11. Feeling quite guilty over here, enjoying your stories and pictures. Feel as if I should lend a hand! Congratulations on your new property-excited to see what will be coming next.

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  12. Thanks for the lovely tour. All the best with the aquisition of the new piece of land. What amazingly funny stories chickens (and most animals actually) provide. Fancy your rooster going home to mum each night!

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  13. An interesting tour, thank you. Sorry to hear about your ram. I couldn't agree more about the weather, it has been pretty diabolical! It must be much harder if you have a croft to run and livestock to feed. Hopefully spring really is just around the corner!

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  14. so much going on! Sound very exciting. Thanks for the tour and great to see all that is happening for you all. Loving your chicken and cockerel stories lol!!

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  15. Great post Jacqui and that's wonderful news about getting some extra land! I'm quite jealous of your new polytunnel as well and think I've probably sown more than enough seeds to fit in it myself ;)

    It's great getting an update on all the animals on your croft too - I love that the neighbour's rooster slinks over to your flock of hens everyday and just hearing about the everyday lives of your cows and pigs. It's a real shame that the gorgeous ram passed away though...maybe some of the lambs born this year will be his and just maybe there will be a son of his among them to take his place.

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    1. Hi Tanya - i get so carried away every year, and |keep all the seedlings - none of this weed out the weakest one nonsense!
      The ram was running with a flock of Hebridean sheep, which are black, so i am not sure what the result is.
      xx

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  16. How can you live with such scenery? I'd just sit there looking at it all the time and do nothing in wonderment! Wonderful, wonderful surroundings to live in.

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    1. I have to say, it is nice to lift your head every now and then and give thanks :) xx

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  17. Thank you for the tour of the croft. Looks like you have so many plans for this coming year. You're right, this year will be the best year yet, and by the end of it you will be well on the way to being experienced crofters. Sorry to hear about the ram, but looking forward to seeing all that you achieve this coming year.

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  18. lots of hard work ahead,but exciting too! When the polytunnel is up are you going to have an official opening ? A friend did that and everyone had a great night(-obviously before anything was planted) but its quite liberating dancing in big wellies.
    Thanks for the tour,rain or not it looks great

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  19. Great post and a really interesting read. Looks like you have quite a bit of work coming up...

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  20. i would never want to do anything but wander those fields and knit. best of luck to you jacqui on all your upcoming happenings. it all sounds wonderful. xx lori

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  21. Good luck with the expansion, makes my wee garden plot look like a pin head lol. That view is just beautiful.
    V
    xxx

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  22. Hi Jacqui, nice to read of your crofting life. From what I understand, a crofter does not own the land, am I right. Is that what the Crofter's Commission is all about, to get permission to use extra land? If you owned it outright surely the commission would have no say in the matter. Forgive me for being inquisitive but its quite a different system to what I know (I think).

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    1. Hi Deb - you are right - we own the tenancy of the croft, but we can use it as we see fit, pass the tenancy on etc, and we have fairly cast iron rights - can even build a house, although there are other hoops to jump through for that.
      The crofter's commission role is to make sure the crofts are used properly, and no absentees are leaving the land untended etc. xxx

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  23. What a rich life. I love just gazing into your pictures. I can almost see myself in them... if I squint just right and use a heavy dose of imagination... yea, I look good as a crofter! I even like to go barefoot!! :)

    Blessings, Debbie

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  24. I so thoroughly enjoyed reading about all your goings-on! Seedlings will soon be taking over our spare bedroom as well, and half the kitchen table is already spoken for ;) So exciting about acquiring more land - best of luck with finalizing that! Our adjacent neighbor is thinking about putting her 1 acre up for sale this summer - if we could find the funds, oh, what we could do with that land, too! It's fun to dream about it :)
    -Jaime

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  25. Dexters are lovely animals and I would love to have a herd of them! Exciting times ahead if you get the additional croft.

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