Back in September of last year – before I went away to Navarra for a couple of months, I completed the task of converting the old byre that’s on our croft, in Field 1 (aka Home Park) – the field that runs from the public road (and Carrick) down to the shore.
For ten years – since we rebuilt the byre in 2009 – it was used as housing for our Welsumer flock of chickens. Then, last year, over the course of the spring and summer, we sold the birds in threes and fours or more. The drinkers, feeders and such like were also sold : on eBay ; by word of mouth ; and by putting up ads in the supermarkets’ community notice boards. Eventually, the old byre fell silent – though not forgotten, not neglected, and not for long.
Denise and I had agreed that we would convert the building to accommodate the remaining sheep (of which, after two sales, we are now down to 10 ewes and 2 wedders). We no longer let them roam around the island in winter – as we’re entitled to, as we’ve lost too many sheep to the numerous hazards – some natural, most man-made. But enclosed on our croft, there’s insufficient natural fodder to see them through the winter and early spring, and feedinig them pellets and hay outdoors is very inefficient : they need more feed because they use more energy outdoors, and a lot gets spoilt by the bad weather. It’s much more economical – and better for the sheep, if they have to option to eat and sleep indoors. In addition, with me away in Navarra, D would not be able to move the sheep around on her own, so we’d agreed that they would be shut in to the shed for two months whilst I was away. With my departure rapidly approaching, I had to set aside other tasks and concentrate on the conversion from chickens to sheep. There would be no changes to the building itself – just the fixtures and fittings.
After 15 years of progressive refinements to our poultry set-up and routines, it seemed that we’d pretty much got it right, so the first task was to make notes and take photos, just in case we – or perhaps eventually someone who comes after us – wants to keep poultry here again. The detailed photos, sketches and notes were made during the summer, but before I started dismantling the fittings and fixtures, I took one last set of photos. Then, after dismantling everything, I loaded the timber and hardware onto the trailer to take home for sorting into material that could be re-used or recycled, some timber to be used as fuel for our living room stove, and a relatively small balance to be disposed of along with an accumulation of old pallets and other scrap timbers, spoilt hay and the such like : and quite a fire it was!
The next stage was to create two new ‘fixtures’. At one end of the shed, a manger for hay, and at the other end a T-shaped arrangement from which could be hung three big plastic feed troughs (used for sheep pellets). Both ‘fixtures’ were built entirely with timber and screws recycled from the old poultry fixtures (perch rails, feed troughs and nesting boxes). The new fixtures (like the old perch rails and nesting boxes) are suspended by wires attached to the roof trusses : this is to deter rats.
The day after my return from Navarra, the sheep were let out of the shed to graze Home Park. A week or so ago, with that field grazed out, I led the sheep across the road into Field 2. That field hasn’t been grazed since early summer, so there’s plenty of grass still to eat : even if it’s not as nutritious as in summer, the sheep seem to prefer it to the hay, and they are even leaving some of their sheep nuts ration, too.