A look back at 2013

As 2013 draws to an end, I thought I would do that typical thing of looking back at the year.
It wasn’t the easiest of years on the croft, with many more losses over the last winter and my lamb prices being lower than previous years, but it was still an enjoyable one. It’s been another busy year, with a full time job, playing in goal for Ness F.C., vice-chair of the Social Club and my freelance media commitments.
I’ve gone through my blog posts and chosen my favourite ones. I have chosen them because I liked them or because I think they are important for one reason or another.
Thanks for reading!

My first one is from January and is a video of Bud struggling to come to terms with the laminate flooring in the kitchen.
http://airanlot.com/2013/01/21/bud-and-the-door/

In February, I had a Buzzard attack some of my chickens. I haven’t chosen the post about the attack, but I’ve chosen the video I managed to get of the Buzzard returning a couple of days later, enticed by a chicken I had to cull. I think this was the single most viewed post in 2013, with thousands of views on facebook.
http://airanlot.com/2013/02/26/brilliant-buzzards/
Easter is my favourite time of year; lambing is usually in full swing and the local football season starts! Love it. Here are a couple of my lambing related posts, including Lasarusina, the lamb that came back from the brink of death (I kept her, she’s a beaut)
http://airanlot.com/2013/04/28/lamb-pictures/
http://airanlot.com/2013/04/23/lazarus-lives/

I also used my incubator for the first time, it wasn’t as successful as I wished, but at least I got some chicks out of it.
http://airanlot.com/2013/04/14/five-alive/
May is peat-cutting season, this year a group of us helped a neighbour who wasn’t able to cut his own. A very enjoyable evening for all of us.
http://airanlot.com/2013/05/20/helping-with-the-peats/
Now, I fancy myself as a bit of an amateur photographer and was quite chuffed with myself for getting these pictures of a cuckoo – a bird I had never actually seen in the flesh before, despite hearing them all my life.
http://airanlot.com/2013/05/28/cuckoo-pictures/
Every now and again, something happens that reminds you how susceptible livestock are. In June, one of my older ewes had her eye removed by a black-backed gull. Don’t look if you’re too squeamish. The sheep is fine, and still with us.
http://airanlot.com/2013/06/14/horrible-stuff/
My egg-laying empire took a big step forward this year, with the introduction of my new hen house. I had to assemble it myself and I also got a 60% CCAGS grant for it (which I am still to claim), otherwise it wouldn’t have been viable.
http://airanlot.com/2013/09/14/complete-hen-house/
I ended up with an extra cat for a few days in September (can’t believe it was that long ago). She was a stray but has successfully been rehomed, elsewhere in Ness.
http://airanlot.com/2013/09/29/unexpected-guest/
One of the most important acts in the crofting year – releasing the rams. This needs no further explanation!
http://airanlot.com/2013/10/25/rams-let-loose/

The aftermath

I should be elated and relieved today, at how successful the inaugural World
Guga Eating Championships were, but I’m not. Instead, I am considering whether or not I should remain involved in community activities at all.

The competition itself went to plan; we filled all available spaces (8 because of the number of gugas we could get), we had spectators come in for it, and there was a great atmosphere. That’s pretty much all we wanted.

Peter MacRitchie, from Fivepenny, Ness, was the champion, eating his half Guga and 400g of potatoes in 3 minutes 44 seconds. An unbelievable time. I came in 5th, after 5.52.

We knew there would be media interest in the event, that’s partly the reason why we did it, and the ‘World’ part of the title was a tongue-in-cheek attempt at building things up beforehand.

Anything to do with the Guga generates interest, good & bad. Today there is a piece on the Independent website (I’m not linking to it) which I haven’t been able to face reading in its entirety. Lifting quotes from my blog, making no attempt to get in touch and with several inaccuracies. If it was me that was doing this off my own back, fine, but it’s not. It’s potentially affecting all of Ness and a unique way of life and community spirit that you won’t find elsewhere. I’m convinced some folk won’t be happy until everyone on this planet is exactly the same.

I suppose this comes with the territory of sticking your neck out, but people aren’t indestructible. I certainly amn’t anyway.

Nice day for drenching

What a good day’s work!

I had been meaning to drench the sheep for a week or two, but the weather or circumstances haven’t been suitable until today. Myself, my brother Murdo and my dad suited up and went to work. First we took the ewes from one of the crofts, out to the fank.

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I am still struggling a little with the nail I stood on on Monday, so Murdo walked them out, while I cruised out in the pick up.

Once in the fank, we blitzed the drenching.

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I took 15 sheep home, while the rest went out to the apportioned on the moor for a week or two.

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Back at home, I gave the lambs their second Heptavac dose.

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I am keeping them penned in for a day or two, to get them onto the sheep feed. The lambs haven’t been fed sheep feed before, apart from wee bits they’d have with their mothers, so they have to be persuaded to take it. Doesn’t take long, most are already eating it.

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Stranded Dolphin

I received a phonecall from the BBC shortly after 12pm, telling me about a stranded dolphin on Traigh Shanndaigh, the beach in Eoropie. Off I went, armed with my camera, to see what the situation was.

The beach isn’t accessible by vehicle, so we had to walk/run maybe 1/4 mile to get there (my brother Innes was with me).

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There were a few people about, and one local, Shona Morrison, told me that the vet, SSPCA and British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) had all been informed. The dolphin had more than likely been on the beach since high tide on Wednesday night, maybe 11ish pm. No obvious injuries but it seemed to be exhausted, as you would probably guess.

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Trevor from BDMLR was first on site and started thinking about how it would get refloated, although decision on the welfare of the animal was to be the vet’s decision. Hector, the vet, wasn’t far off. Experienced in this situation (he mentioned dealing with 7 or 8 Sperm Whale strandings), his first reaction was that the sea was far too rough to consider releasing an exhausted dolphin into the breaking waves. After examining the dolphin, a male White Beaked Dolphin, it was considered to be in poor condition. There was some discussion about moving it to Port of Ness harbour, to release it there, but the stress would probably have been too much for it. The fact that the dolphin was on the high water mark was another indication that it was more than likely sick or injured and that it was washed ashore, rather than stranded. The only option was euthanasia and by the time Hector had returned with the necessary equipment, the dolphin seemed to have given up the ghost and was fading fast – in my opinion.

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Sad end to a lovely animal. First time I’ve been as close to a live one.

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Here is a video of what happened.

Christmas Eve

I am sitting at home, watching Raiders of the Lost Ark just now. I wasn’t expecting to, as I was convinced we would be without power due to the storm hitting us this evening. Winds got 96mph in Ness this morning and I tried to get all my chores done first thing, as it was forecast to be a lot worse this evening. I’m still waiting for the storm to pick up though!

This morning, my brother Innes had to help me, as I am struggling with a nail that I stood on yesterday. Yes, I did post about this last week, but I did it again yesterday – and worse this time! I wanted to make sure that the sheep were all fed, so I gave them one of the haylage bales I got from my cousin Murdo.

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I’ve been a bit apprehensive about using haylage/silage with pregnant ewes before, but this stuff is excellent. Innes had to go get some of the sheep, as they couldn’t hear me call them over the wind.

We gave one to the lambs too before making sure the chickens had enough food and water. I think the wind and rain were at their height then, Innes was in his element!

Nollaig Chrideil nuair a thig i.

The Guga

This week we are holding the first ever Guga Eating Championship in Ness. It is being organised by the Ness FC Social Club, of which I am vice-chair, and it has made me think about the way the Guga (and hunt) is perceived outwith these islands.

For anyone unfamiliar with the Guga Hunt, you can have a look at the BBC documentary that was broadcast in 2011, photos from my trip to Sulageir this summer, and here is my own post about Super Guga Saturday. The Hunt is still as fiercely defended in Ness as it ever was, although criticism of it today seems to arise from far-off places, from people who appear to have little clue what they are talking about. I suppose it is a sign of the times and the reactionary social media culture that we have, that these ‘campaigns’ raise their heads, disappearing as quickly as they appear. Personally, I steer clear of all kinds of online campaigns. People think they are making a difference by supporting a campaign, or signing a petition, but they usually have little, or no impact. Fortunately, that is the case with the Guga. I don’t believe there is any danger at all of the license granted to the Guga Hunters of Ness being revoked, and the ill-informed rants that appear don’t worry me at all, only anger me. There was one in 2010 that read “The guga hunt is not vital to the inhabitants of Sula Sgeir.”. Of course it’s not vital to the inhabitants of Sulasgeir. Sulasgeir doesn’t HAVE any human inhabitants; it is merely a rock in the middle of the North Atlantic! This kind of behaviour isn’t restricted to the Guga, though. One of my favourite examples are the comments in this blog post Highlighting beautifully some of the ludicrous arguments that are put forth.

The most popular argument used is that the Hunt is “barbaric” and that the animals suffer. Now, I am an animal lover. I rear plenty myself and care about their welfare. I personally have no issue at all with the methods used to dispatch the Guga and I know, from my time working there, that the RSPB locally have no issues with it, just as the local vet and local SSPCA have no issue with it. Those who criticise it are themselves often guilty of extreme hypocrisy; happy enough to eat their intensively reared chicken, pork or any other meat, without thinking about how it lived, where it was reared and how it was killed. The population as a whole seems to be increasingly detached from where their food comes from, and it takes something like the horse meat situation to highlight how little people think about what they eat. The best a comment I have seen from a do-gooder, was questioning a crofter as to why on earth a pig had to die to provide his family with food, when he could go down to the supermarket and buy sausages like a normal person. Yes, I know. Ludicrous.

To the critics, I often reply with a series of questions: what about all those poor fish who suffocate on boats? What about the deer/rabbits/game birds that are shot and possibly not killed instantly? What about pigs who spend their lives in a crate? Out of sight, out of mind.

So, back to the first ever World Guga Eating Championships. Yes, the ‘World’ part is tongue-in-cheek and the event is a celebration of all things Niseach. We are so proud of where we are from, we have a strong identity as Ness-folk and the Guga is a big part of that. I for one cannot wait!