Sunday, 28 August 2016

Mrs. Cheadle's Twilight Home for Chickens

Another downside to free range
Every year millions of old hens, usually at about 18 months of age are slaughtered to make room for the next batch of young layers. They mostly end up in pet food or meat pies. Birds are caught by casual workers employed by gang masters. They do the job at night. Hens are packed in plastic crates and hauled by lorry to an abattoir for slaughter. My hens are more fortunate.

After two years as laying hens producing eggs for sale and for hatching my old hens went off to the seaside this morning to live out their days on Mrs. Cheadle's croft at Sanna. I am very fortunate in having someone who is prepared to do this.
2016 pullets and cockerels now liberated from this rearing pen
As hens grow older they lay fewer eggs but the eggs do tend to be bigger. Large intensive commercial egg producers can't afford to keep them on but Sue Cheadle is prepared to keep them until they literally fall off their perches. She likes hens and is a kind person.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, this year's crop of pullets have the place to themselves and aren't being bullied by the old girls. They are busy sorting out a new pecking order, in the sun, ranging over the fields, roads and garden where they have just stripped the last of the pelargoniums. This is the downside of free range poultry keeping.

In return for Mrs. Cheadle's kindness I should add that she has just started a new business,"Sanna Spice Indian Cuisine" . A complete range of Indian dishes are cooked to order and delivered after 6.00 pm. Tel.01972 510760. I am just about to have my lamb bhuna.


Thursday, 25 August 2016

Walk in an ancient forest - South Loch Arkaig

Alder groves on the Arkaig river
The Woodland Trust and the Arkaig Community Forest group are trying to buy the Loch Arkaig and Glen Mallie pinewoods from the Forestry Commission. Yesterday I went to have a look at this remnant of the Great Wood of Caledon. Outside of the wood it was hot and dry. Then I stepped into a shaded, cool and fragrant forest for a five kilometre walk through groves of ancient trees.

Venerable oaks


Alder groves line both banks of the River Arkaig perhaps to same extent they did 2000 years before the Romans arrived in Britain. Giant venerable oaks clothed in lichen, mosses and ferns line the track together with birch, holly, rowan, alder and even a few beech. This has to be one of the finest forest walks in the West.

But no Scots Pine. It wasn't until I got out of the wood and looked back that I saw them high on the hill above the broad leaved woodland and commercial conifers planted in the 60s

It was what I expected; wide spaced gnarled old survivors with birch and heather under story. this is one of about 90 remnants in the highlands of Caledonian pine a genetically distinct and endemic sub-species, in it's own distinct pinewood ecosystem.

If you love woodland walks don't miss this one,there is a route plan on the "Walk highland" website and a Woodland Trust video at woodlandtrust.org.uk/pineforest. The Trust are planning to restore pinewood by removing the spruces and lodgepole pine, encouraging natural regeneration,  new planting of native species and of controlling deer and sheep. I should add that the pinewood is also habitat for wildcats, pine martens and a whole range of birds.

Pinewood above the birch and conifers
If you want to stay, there's the MBA's Invermallie bothy where I had my lunch on  chair in the sun..

















Monday, 22 August 2016

Tough old trees

Older than me and much tougher
Hawthorn grows anywhere and everywhere; on the coast, halfway up mountains, along railway tracks and even on the roofs of abandoned buildings.

My hawthorns have to be the toughest of all, there are only a few but the oldest must be seventy to a hundred years old. This hardy old tree has withstood Atlantic gales, snow, frost, drought, sheep grazing, deer browsing , salt spray and countless other abuses but this year it doesn't have any berries, neither do the other hawthorns on my boundary.


Another hawthorn of similar age blew down some years ago, before I came here, and has continue to grow while horizontal on the ground. This despite having over the years grown round and enveloped a steel fence post that is now almost lost within it's trunk. It has produced berries in previous years but not this year.

An internet search hasn't produced an answer I can only surmise that the deep frost we had at the start of May damaged the flowers and prevented fertilisation.

The rusty spike sticking out of the wall is an axle from an old farm cart used as a straining post many years ago.








Steel post enveloped by the trunk


Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Buzzards making hay while the sun shines




vole spotting 
Just as sea gulls learned to follow the plough hundreds of years ago, buzzards follow the silage making equipment. They seem to know each operation; mowing, turning, windrowing and finally baling. The don't bother much when the grass is turned and spread in the sun but when the drying grass is rowed up ready for the baler and there are clear strips between the rows they are circling over the hay park or perched on a fence post.

It's mainly voles that they are after, small furry chaps that hide under the cut grass. As soon as there is some clear ground between the rows and less cover for the voles the buzzards are here. This evening after the bales are cleared and stacked the birds will be back patiently waiting. Their telescopic eyesight can see a rabbit, I have read, from a mile away so the voles don't have much chance when the bird is only 100m up in the air.

Fewer places to hide
The old cockerel gets a bit agitated, as soon as he sees an airborne predator he calls to the hens,"Oi... there's a buzzard up there" and they scurry away under cover.
              

Friday, 12 August 2016

Cabin fever and the long term weather forecast


I first heard stories of "cabin fever" in Canada 50 years ago. Trappers and Prospectors living in extreme isolation deep in the winter woods were affected when days were short and food monotonous.  They often ran out of tobacco and cigarette papers then became seriously bored with each others company. The early symptoms included lying in bed all day shooting mice in the roof, with rifles.  When they tired of this they frequently shot their partners.

Then there was the 2002 movie "Cabin Fever" a horror film  universally panned that had an approval rating of 0%. It involved a group of students weekending in a remote cabin, the usual assortment of mad dog, drifters and neighbours plus a flesh eating virus.

Here in W. Ardnamurchan it's a bit different. In August the days are quite long, I don't have to eat pine marten, I don't smoke, my neighbours are mostly sane and I have just shot the last mouse.

No, it's the bloody incessant rain, gloom, grey skies and being housebound by the weather that causes stress, anxiety and glumness. Even Mimi the cat just sits and stares out of the window all day. On the bright side. I checked the Norwegian , BBC and XC weather forecasts Sunday will be dry! sunny! and warm!


Thursday, 11 August 2016

Black Rain over Ardnamurchan


Wet hens and the Isle of Mull
The rain has been non-stop for three days, there were 30 mm overnight and no sign of it letting up. I feels almost like the Brahan Seer's prediction that, " black rain will come to Ardnamurchan and all the sheep will go blind".

Kenneth Mackenzie (the Brahan Seer) lived in the early part of the 16 th century and was gifted (or cursed depending on your view) with second sight when he looked through a hole in a stone (the "seeing stone" ) that he found as a boy on the Isle of Lewis.

He made what seemed bizarre predictions that came to pass long after his death; the building of the Caledonian Canal, the Second World War and many more including the "black rain" prophecy It hasn't happened yet, it just feels like it today.

These  continuously  wet, grey miserable days brought his long term forecast to mind. We should have made the haylage two weeks ago, no exterior painting of the house has been possible.

Kilchoan Bay and Ben Hiant in Summer

Friday, 22 July 2016

Champion cheviot gimmer

Pick the winner
Before going any further, a gimmer is one of last year's ewe lambs and Nan breeds Cheviots, white, hornless hardy sheep. In the picture below they are orange or gold this is how they are shown. Sixty years ago in lowland Scotland the hills of Perthshire lit up in the evening by these golden fleeces.
then it was not for showing, the sheep had been dipped with nicotine dip to kill parasites.

The champion should have a long, flat, wide back; rounded haunches and a tight fleece. you can pick the winner from the second image. These are characteristics that mean the lambs are well muscled and fleshed out when slaughtered and hopefully this gimmer will pass on her best characteristics to her offspring.

Nan has had the champion three times now. She isn't only a shepherd, she drives the fire engine, is a member of the Coastguard team and plays in goal for Kilchoan ladies football team.