Life of a Crofter: Growing Your Own

This is the first in a series of lambing updates from our very own Donald Morrison, crofter and Changeworker, on Lewis. Donald’s updates start 15 March and end 30 April and will be featured over the next few weeks.

15 March 2012

View from the back of Donald’s house, looking westwards to the Atlantic.

I live in the village of Cross on Lewis. Cross is in the district of Ness, the most north-westerly part of Lewis. It is renowned for the Guga – a local delicacy – salt baby gannet which is harvested every August from the island of Sulisgeir and highly sought after by Nessmen the world over.

I work at Changeworks and my role is that of Western Isles Outreach Officer with the advice centre in the Highlands and Islands. My area covers the Butt of Lewis all the way to Barra and I advise householders and businesses on energy efficiency and what renewable energy technology might be best suited to their property. I am also involved in the promotion of, to name a few things, the local authority’s free insulation scheme, the Energy Assistance Package and Fuel Efficient Driver training, both solely and in partnership with local organisations.

I am probably slightly different from most other Changeworkers, in that as a crofter in the Western Isles my main area of interest is in rearing my own sheep.

I currently run two small flocks. One of Texels (a breed originally from Belgium) and another of Scottish Blackfaces on my 9 acre croft and I also sublet another two crofts totalling another 9 acres.

I used three rams last autumn. One borrowed Blackface, a very bad tempered Texel and a Suffolk-Texel cross tup all of which has left me with 37 ewes expecting 14 sets of twins and 23 singles (talk about one born every minute!).

The rams were let loose on bonfire night (no pun intended) and so my first lambs are due on Friday 6 April. I have two and a half weeks annual leave booked from Monday 9 April and hopefully most will have lambed during that period. My dutiful wife Jean has agreed to take the last week in April off just to make sure any stragglers are covered.

Sheep usually have between two or three 21-day cycles when they come into season and by putting a harness on the ram with a coloured crayon you can tell by the mark left behind on the ewe if she has been covered. By changing the colour of the crayon every 21 days you can tell which ones might be late lambing. I have four ewes with green bottoms and the rest with red so that would indicate that four will lamb in the second three-week period.

I’ll post more news and photies along the way during my time off. Hopefully any non-meat eaters among you won’t be offended: my sheep are very well looked after, have plenty of space to roam, are currently fed on a diet of premium ewe nuts, hay and nutritional supplements to ensure that both mother and lamb are well fed and are costing me an absolute fortune.

Although the ultimate aim of my croft is to produce quality lamb for the meat market and for the home freezer, I am very fond of my charges especially the older ewes all of whom tend to have different personalities. Some will come up to you and try to go through your pockets looking for some tit bits (the end of loaves and raw potato or turnip peelings being the favourites), whilst others will avoid coming anywhere near you.

I also have three blackface ‘pets’, a blind four-year-old wedder (castrated male) called Calum; a really old wedder with arthritis called Seamus and an elderly ewe called Suzie. I inherited all of them from an elderly lady who I used to help that lived in our village. She was very unconventional and made me promise to look after her pets if anything happened to her. Sadly she was killed in a road accident two years ago and so I have a very expensive promise to fulfil. The two older beasts are now approaching the stage where it may be considered cruel to keep them due to their infirmity but without them the blind one would be lost and so I have a quandary as to what is best to do.

Any suggestions that might ease my conscience would be gratefully appreciated.

I usually grow my own potatoes and some veg but this year hope to build a new barn on the site where my veg patch is, so might give the veg a miss this year.

That’s my lambing story so far, hopefully of interest to some. I’ll keep you updated. It will be a bit early to bring along a couple of pounds of chops and a leg of gigot to my next catch up with colleagues but a show of photies might suffice.

Regards

Donald

In Donald’s next update: showing off some of the early ‘produce’!

4 thoughts on “Life of a Crofter: Growing Your Own

  1. Pingback: Life of a Crofter: Growing Your Own | The Changeworks Blog

  2. Pingback: Life of a Crofter: Growing Your Own (part 3) | The Changeworks Blog

  3. Pingback: Life of a Crofter: Growing Your Own (part 4) | The Changeworks Blog

  4. Pingback: Life of a crofter: growing your own P.S. | The Changeworks Blog

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