My Chickens

I’ve only had chickens since April 2011, when I took over responsibility for my cousin’s 3 hens because she was being daft and prioritised getting married and building a house with her husband over animals (some people are crazy!) 🙂

Here are some of my hens as they are today.  Total of 10 hens and 2 cockerels.

I have two hen houses for them.  I only close them up when the weather gets bad, but they are free to come and go whenever they like.

They’re always out and about, here they are sheltering from a cold northerly by the wheel of the trailer. The trailer definitely needs a lick of paint!

Being chased by some hungry chooks!

I slowly built up the number of hens over the year, adding a few in autumn and a few more over the winter and into spring.  The two below came in February, having hitched a lift from Inverness on a lorry-load of hay that was being delivered to Island Crofter Ltd, a business run by a friend of mine.  I happened to be off work so nipped up and took them off their hands. They had laid 2 eggs on the lorry, but I let them keep them! (The picture also appeared in Fios, the newspaper in Ness)

I recently purchased 4 new hens.  This is one of them, while they were penned next to the rest of the hens during the first week or so.  I think I’ll stay at this number of hens now!

They’re pretty productive, usually ranging between 4-8 eggs per day.  Many more than I (and my parents) can use, so I have started selling them to friends for £1 per half dozen.  Quite cheap, I know but it more than covers my monthly feed costs and that’s all I want.

Some of the younger birds have just started laying – resulting in some tiny eggs!

Anyway, along with eggs, I get fun and enjoyment out of keeping chickens!

Fishing with Lìn-bheaga

First questions for many of you will be what are Lìn-bheaga?  I think the English for them are Small/Short-lines.  Basically a long-ish line with baited hooks on it.  There are also Lìn-mhora – Long-lines – that are used, in my experience, for commercial fishing.  I’ve had experience of fishing with Long-lines in the 90s, on my fathers fishing boat.  Would use the Long-lines to catch Bioraich (Dog-fish).  I was always told these would be used in shark-fin soup but I’m not sure if that was the truth or not.  We would also catch Dalagan (Spotted Dog-fish).

Co-dhiu, these Lìn-bheaga were an experiment my father had been wanting to try for a long time.  He is originally from the island of Scalpay, off Harris, famous for their fishing, and used to use Lìn-bheaga quite often but had never tried it in Ness, in the 33 years he’s lived here.

We’d prepared and baited the lines (with mackerel) several weeks ago and kept it in the freezer until weather conditions were better.

There are about 15o hooks on the line.  This box was home-made to launch the lines

This is us parked up at the bottom of my croft, above Traigh Chrois, about to set the line.  The beach is about a mile from my house.

There is an anchor attached to each end of the line, which are set at low tide.  The tide then comes in and covers the line & baited hooks.  Here is my dad attaching one of the anchors to the line.

My dad surveying the beach.  I must point out that I did most of the hard-labour but it’s not easy taking pictures at the same time!!

It took us about 90 minutes to set the line.  By this time, I had been waist deep in the sea. Fully clothed. My wellies had to be emptied 3 times….

We finished setting the line at around 2.30pm, just in time to go home and watch the Scottish Cup Final.  We returned just after 6pm, before the tide got too high.  As you can see from this picture, there was quite a lot of seaweed on the beach, something which I have never seen here before.  We had rough weather earlier in the week, so a lot of it has come loose and come ashore.  This was to prove to be a problem, as we will see shortly!

Starting to haul the line in.  All this is done by hand.  You can see from the nearest breaking wave, that it is full of seaweed.  This ended up catching onto the hooks, instead of the flat-fish we were hoping to catch.  It also made for hard work hauling it in!  The line was gathered into the basket at my father’s feet.

We took about an hour to haul the line back in, with difficulty at some points.  I would love to show you a picture of the basket we had down for all the fish we caught  – but we got ZERO!!!!

All the hooks are safely tucked away into the foam rim of the basket.

So time to head home and plan our next assault on the beachhead!

Veg plot take 2

With the weather forecast to improve over the weekend, I took the opportunity to get some of my vegetables planted.  It’s been very cold here and nothing has grown in the past few weeks.  This is how I had left the veg plot:

I got busy on my hands and knees for an hour or so, first into the ground were 20 Brussell Sprout plants.  It’s been recommended to me not to bother with seeds for some plants, because they won’t develop as they should.

Next into the ground were the Leeks, and then the Lettucs (below).  I’ve had neck problems for the last week or two and it was starting to play up so I left it at this for the evening.

I still have broccoli and cauliflower plants to get planted, probably at some point on Saturday, or Monday evening.  I’ll then get more of the seed into the ground.  The final thing I did was cover the plants with a fleece.  Hopefully this will protect them from the cold over the next week or so – as well as preventing pests from getting to them too.  And yes, I had to anchor the fleece down – it’s rather breezy here just now!

 

Bud up to 4 months of age

Bud arrived in mid-March, in place of my old dog, Jim (who I may write about at some point)

He settled in quite quickly, here he is dozing in a basket of clean clothes!

On his first walk in the croft.  In this photo, I think he looks like one of these toy dogs that does flips!

Training him early to get used to the tractor!

And the 4×4!

But all this work makes Bud a sleepy boy!

At least this time it was dirty clothes!

He gets hungry too – this is him eating his first rabbit!

My very own meerkat

This was his first time on the beach

Just Hangin’

He disappeared on me one Sunday afternoon – found him sound asleep on my bed!

Big Yawn

Full of energy

Close-up

Trying to chew a whale bone in the front garden!

For the time being, I will leave you with this picture of him feeling sorry for himself, after hurting his paw running around the kitchen!  There will be many more Bud pictures – I guarantee that!

Peat-cutting in the 21st century

Peat was traditionally the fuel that kept island homes warm throughout the long, cold winters.  Families, neighbours and, sometimes, whole villages, would go out to the moor together and cut their peats, using their taraisgeirs tar-ash-kerr (the much more interesting sounding Gaelic for peat iron) to cut each 12-inch square piece of peat by hand.  Things changed a lot in the early 90s, when lots of homes installed oil heating systems.  With heating oil costs having trebled (now around 60-65 pence per litre), many homes are going back to peats.

Our family have always had  fire of some type, but for the last 5 years or so, we’ve switched to machine cut peats, rather than hand cut. My father used to be a fisherman but an accident on his boat in 2005, and also lack of time for many of us, mean that it is the preferred choice for us.

Anyway, the reason for this post is that our peats were cut over the last 24 hours.  A man in Ness spends many of his evenings at this time of year out on the moor with his tractor, harvesting our winter fuel.

Of course, it’s a Lamborghini that we use for our peats in Ness……

The peat-cutting machine is mounted on the back of the tractor.  This picture was taken at the fank in North Dell, with the village in the background

The chain/blade is angled downwards into the earth and works a bit like a chainsaw/conveyor belt.  The blade cuts into the ground and carries the peat up into the rest of the machine.

The peat is the forced out of the other end of the machine, into long sausages – hence why we call them sausage peats!

The peats will be left to dry for a few weeks, and I will blog again on the next stage, once we reach it.

The vegetable plot

Last year was my first attempt to plant some vegetables.  I didn’t really know what I was doing and just bunged it all into the ground without much though or care.  This year, I decided to take things a little more seriously.  First of all, I ploughed the land, with my beloved Massey Ferguson 135

I had a new companion with me for the ploughing, my new puppy Bud – who seemed quite at home next to me in the cab!

Once the ploughing was done, it was time to get some shelter erected.  The Western Isles are well known for the strong winds here, and Ness is regularly top of the charts when it comes to wind-speeds, so a shelter is important if any veg are going to survive.  This is my brother Innes and Uisdean, a boy that comes to help me on the croft, sheltering from the snow and wind while erecting the first of the sides of the shelter.

 

 

Next up was getting the land rotovated.  Fortunately there is a guy in Ness that has a nice, big, tractor-mounted rotovator, and he did the vegetable plot and the potatoes for the pricely sum of £7.  The earth was like sand once he’d finished

 

I’ll use this as an excuse to post another picture of Bud, who travels in style, every time he comes in the croft with me

 

Myself and my father finished off the shelter this week, and the first of the vegetables have been planted.  I am holding off from planting many just now, though, as the weather has been quite cold.  It’s due to change this weekend, so I’ll hopefully get some done early next week.  I think the plot is looking pretty darn good now though!

Seaweed Collection

This year, I decided to try and use seaweed on my potatoes & vegetables, after talking to one of my mates about it.  The seaweed washes up on Traigh Dhail (Dell beach), about a mile away from my house.  We both went down with our tractors and I took home two loads of seaweed.  I filmed it on my phone and you can see a wee video of how it was done here:  Collecting Seaweed

His tractor has a grab, which allows the seaweed to be gathered in a matter of minutes.  It would take probably an hour to fill it by hand

The seaweed has been sitting on the croft for nearly two months, allowing it to rot a bit.  Over the past 10 days, we have planted the potatoes, using the seaweed as fertiliser.  I will use some on my vegetable plot as well.

Goodbye facebook, hello world

I have started up this blog to allow myself to document some of my work on my croft in Ness, Isle of Lewis.  I should explain that this blog name, ‘air an lot’, means ‘on the croft’ in Gaelic (I know some smart-alex will say croit is the Gaelic for croft but in Ness we use lot).  Anyway, I have been tweeting and posting on facebook for some time now about all the bits & bobs that I do on the croft but have been getting increasingly frustrated with the childish reaction of some people on facebook (and facebook themselves) so have decided to move the majority of it over here so that I can say what I want in peace!

I am from a crofting family and have been working on the croft for as long as I can remember.  I was given my croft, 19 North Dell, as my 21st birthday present waaaay back in 2005.  I now have a flock of about 50 ewes, kune-kune pigs, 10 hens, 2 ducks (as well as 2 cats, 2 gerbils and a dog!).  I do all this while also working full-time and I find the crofting to be a great release from the stresses of day-to-day work.

What I plan on doing here is post a lot of pictures and waffling a lot.  First of all, I plan on blogging (with lots of pictures) on how my lambing season went this year, documenting the bad along with the good.  It seems every second blog I come across is something similar to this, I shall try and be a little different though!