Jonathan: The snow has continued on and off all day – we now have more than 150mm and the roads uncleared. No deliveries, so I have now today run out of feed for the sheep and they can’t get to the grass for the snow. I’ve made a make-shift hay-rack and loaded it with straw, and though there’s precious little nutrition in that it’s at least better than the rough grasses these Hebrideans usually make do with. I had intended during this week to move the sheep to the next field, but engineering work has had to take priority. I need to fix the the electric fencing first, but that won’t be possible in heavy snow; and anyway the sheep won’t get to the grass there either. Milder weather would be a god-send, but right now what I need most is some bags of Sheep Nuts!
Jonathan: Another cold frosty morning! Temperatures are around zero – so nothing dramatic, but the raw north-east wind has a nasty bite!! The Hebridean sheep are hardy enough to stand all this and far worse without any fussing over, but even so the winter grass is not very appetizing and offering them some tasty treats from a bag helps to keep them used to me and easier to handle. One of this year’s lambs – from Catherine MacLennan – ate from my hand this morning! In fact all the ewes from Catherine – both last and this year – are confident, and the biggest of them (she’s the biggest of all the sheep in fact) will try and eat out of the bucket as I’m walking along! In January – when the township rams have done their work for this year – I plan to let my ewes out onto the unfenced upper crofts and train them to keep fairly close to home and used to my voice. Whether, in future years, they will do that when they have lambs, is another matter!
Jonathan: Denise and I drove down north to Taigh Chearsabhagh in Lochmaddy today for a cup of tea and a cake in the cafe. 45 miles for a snack? Well of course we did other things along the way: buy a new bin for the kitchen (we’ve had the old one 24 yrs!) and some Xmas cards; bought a big bag of dog food at Lovett’s in Iochdar. Oh, and we collected the sheep from the abattoir – the real purpose of the journey. A sheep in a polythene bag. Five poly bags on the cold room floor. Quite heavy: encouragingly heavy! Iain commented that they were very good sheep – which was even more encouraging. I paid up – £20 each for killing and butchering; a £100 cheque on the office desk; and then I loaded them into the back of the car. An hour and a half later we were home – and the first thing I wanted to do was weigh the bags! And the result: 5 bags, very similar weights; totalling 75kg or slightly more. It’s difficult to put a value on this, as we are keeping it for ourselves, but wouldn’t ordinarily afford this quality of meat – and Hebridean is very highly regarded. But our non-meat equivalent would certainly be a moderately priced cheese, at around £8/kg. But even at that measure we’ve brought home £600 worth of meat from the five sheep. Bagging up the joints and cuts into individual freezer bags, seeing and feeling the wonderful quality of the meat, I felt for the first time in my life really pleased – proud, in fact – of the results of my own vision, commitment and hard work. Yes I’ve felt some measure of pride in my civil engineering work, but never anything like this!
Jonathan: Last evening I took five of our Hebridean wedders [castrated males] on a long drive north to Lochmaddy. I came back without them. By now, this morning, they are probably already in the cold store. This is the first time I’ve done this. All yesterday morning was made making final preparations to round them up without mishap. Just before lunch – with the help of a bucket of feed and some encouragement, I managed to get most of the sheep into the holding pen, but not six sheep led by the most difficult of the wedders. Mid afternoon my neighbour Seonaidh came over with his son and the two dogs and within 5 minutes the rest were in the pen too. Seonaidh helped me hoist the five wedders into the trailer. Since the rest were all in the pen, I checked their feet for condition and trimmed as required, and then let them out. And then the 45 mile drive north. It was dark when I got to the abbatoir, and difficult to see as I reversed the trailer up to the lairage [pens for holding animals prior to slaughter]. With the help of Ruaraidh I cajoled the sheep out of the trailer. Black sheep in a black night. I never even saw their dark eyes large with fear – I never had time to really think about what I was doing. But now it is done; and I don’t feel what I expected – neither the sadness nor the guilt. Only the wondering whether the meat we’ll get back will be worth all the expense and work over the past year. Hoggett lamb [slow-maturing naturally-fed animals killed at over a year old] fetches very good prices – certainly the best cuts. But how much of it will there be? And – ironically – we could never ordinarily afford to buy it from the butcher or supermarket. There you are, you see: where’s the sadness for a life taken, the guilt at taking life? All I have is the calculations!
Jonathan: A beatifully bright and cheerful day today, if a cold breeze. More work on the electric fencing in the sheep field. I’m trying to make it so that the sheep can’t just quickly slip under it. There’s three strands already and that ought to be enough – it’s a great deal of work to add yet another, so instead I’ve been dismantling a line of fence leading to the fank, and using the posts to reinforce the main boundaries. The idea is to have fewer lines, but less easy to get through without getting a very unpleasant electric shock. However not enough fittings to complete the job! So that means buying more stuff. I’m concerned about the accumulating expense on what is just a borrowed field, and on sheep that don’t yield much of a profit! This time next year I want to have a proper field on my own croft with new permanent fencing. I’ll have to see if I can get a grant towards it. At least that would add to the value of the croft, whereas electric fencing does not.