Jonathan. Late Friday, rounded up the ewe lambs and plucked out of the fank the two best that I’d registered with the Hebridean Sheep Society, ready for taking away to exchange for a ram. An Garradh Mor Cataraidh is really lovely. Large for her age, good shape and strongly built, she also has a very dark fleece of long, soft, glossy and slightly curled locks – just gorgeous. In the photo of them both eating, you can see the difference in character of the two lambs’ fleeces. Cataraidh is on the left. Her half-sister Canach has a really good fleece too, finely crimped, more uniform, perhaps softer and warmer, but lacking the tendency to form those luscious locks that make Cataraidh’s fleece so exceptional. The close up of Cataraidh’s fleece doesn’t really do it justice: it’s been raining steadily all morning, so they don’t look their best! Cataraidh doesn’t seem to mind her fleece being fondled – which is odd because she wasn’t a pet lamb. With their big dark eyes, long black eyelashes (I’d swear they flutter them!) they are Beauty personified!
I spent Friday evening getting all the paperwork ready for the handover. Yesterday, Saturday, I had to be up early (not easy when I have to take extra powerful pain-killers to allow me to sleep at all – but that’s another story), and away at 0615hrs for the long drive to Berneray and the 0800hrs ferry to Harris. A quick stop at An Clachan in Leverburgh for fuel and food, and then up to Horgabost where the exchange was to take place.
A few minutes later, Paul Rowlston, from North Tolsta in Lewis, pulled up alongside my wee white van and smallholder’s multipurpose trailer, with his huge SUV and 2-axle stock trailer, the latter containing 3 very big, muscular, smelly and horny (in every sense) rams. The contrast could not have been starker. (The smelliness is not criticsm of Paul’s shepherding, or the sheep: it’s the time of year, nod nod!!)
We’d originally discussed his Tolsta Foalan, who’d won 6th place in best Hebridean Ram at the Royal Highland Show this year. But Paul had two others on offer which were of interest, one of his own breeding (and younger than Foalan), the other he’d bought in, and also younger. On paper, Foss Ruaraidh had the better breeding of all three, but awards and pedigree only tell you part of the story. I’ve now got the experience to judge what’s needed for the further development of our own flock, and which animal is best likely to supply it. Foalan is already more than four years old, has tendency to go white around his muzzle, and is arrogant, aggressive, stubborn – and extremely strong. But what else should be expected after four years fending for himself out on the Tolsta common grazings, competing with other rams for dominance in a large and varied flock? And our Eriskay croft is no country park! Only the most hardy and thrifty animals can succeed – in an economically viable way – on ground that is at best ungenerous and in weather that rarely takes a day off. The choice was clear: Foalan.
I had other business in Harris, and whilst about it there was a constant banging to be heard from the trailer. Foalan was not happy! One: locked up in the trailer. Two: on the other side of the divider there was a big black bucket, which means food, and what’s more means food that by rights belongs to him. I opened up the gate in the divider and put down food and water, and the head-butting stopped, though a bit late for the divider, which now has buckled steelwork.
It was dark even before I got home, so the trailer was parked up by the house, divider removed, plenty of fresh straw cast in, and a plentiful supply of food and water provided, for which I was thanked by having my hand butted against the side of the trailer. <irony> Your welcome! Have a nice day! </irony>
Denise put it succinctly: we sent off two Beauties, and got in return THE BEAST of Tolsta moor!
[Pity about the blurring on some of these photos – they were long shots in very gusty winds!]
This morning, Denise and I went over to the croft together, and after feeding and checking other animals, reversed the trailer up to the gate into Field 1 (between Carrick and the shore) and set up hurdles. Foalan was tempted out with a bucket of food, allowed to eat it, then very firmly grabbed and up-ended. After trimming feet, checking teeth, dosing against worms, fluke, lice/ticks etc and talking to encouragingly but in a manner intended to communicate that we had the final word, we turned him out into the field with An Garradh Mor Bornais and this year’s six young ram lambs (all seven of them being at that point out of view). Foalan set off on a tour of the boundary fences, but quickly realized that, here in Eriskay, being master all he surveys amounts to somewhat less than it did back on Tolsta common grazings! When I checked an hour or two later, he was busy asserting his authority over Bornais: you can see from the photo that Bornais is submitting. In fact Bornais seems to welcome the company, as Foalan and Bornais have spent the day keeping each other company. The young pups are keeping a low profile, popping their heads up now and then over a bank to ensure they’re a safe distance away from that hulking great smelly horny beast!