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Winter weather is making jobs on the croft take that little bit longer

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View from the croft by Marianne Ross

This year has started with the most prolonged spell of sub-zero weather in a few years. Setting off in -9 degrees this morning with frozen brakes, the forecast isn’t showing anything warmer for a while yet.

We’re about to have our annual sheep scanning visit, so there will be a bit of extra planning needed around getting the ewes gathered in-bye so that they are all close at hand on the day.

There are a couple of icy hill roads to contend with, one in particular which is tarred and therefore polished to ice rink standard with vehicle use – not ideal for a full stock-trailer full of pregnant ewes. We’ll need to get along the road in advance with some salt and see if that’s going to be enough – or look at walking them home; again not ideal as the ewes tend to run along and the ice will still cause problems.

This is typical of a spell of wintry weather – everything takes longer. The short winter days don’t last long either, although they have stretched a bit – I think the entire croft being white keeps the tail end of the day a bit brighter too.

We’re lucky with fast-running burns and springs here, although there is still some carting of water to be done for any livestock that happen to be in the shed. Gavin has taken a few of the smaller hoggs indoors to be kind to them over the winter. It’s rewarding to see the difference this makes, they usually catch up with the rest and thrive on just that little bit of extra help.

With inside water troughs frozen, we are fortunate our cows are able to go outside to a natural spring, which keeps running, even in these temperatures. Gavin’s had to try and roughen up their access route and work some salt in – hooves aren’t great on the ice and the cows know it. They will carefully pick their way across, but then usually head straight back into the sheds when it’s this cold.

The steading yard itself is like a bottle, any attempt at salting it has made little difference. Even the patchy snow left on the fields is deceptive – it’s full of ice-filled ruts and it’s slow-going to stay upright there too.

Gavin’s been using the weight of the bales to balance the tractor – weight on the back and front of the tractor gives extra traction to allow the climb to the highest part of the croft – so slower journeys and lots of extra fodder going out.

A bale doesn’t last long where there is deeper snow and the ewes can’t scrape to find grass very well. It’s nice and easy to count them, of course, as they will all congregate round any fresh hay and silage arrival; but if there are any missing, it can be tough to go looking for lost sheep.

Again, extra time, and a slow journey there and back to our highest hill where, of course, bales are needed most.

We won’t be seeing our usual New Zealand-based scanner this year due to Covid travel restrictions but we appreciate him arranging a replacement, keeping to his usual round. It’s a reminder, if we needed one, that the virus isn’t done yet; and like last year, everyone who has lambing and calving on the horizon is hoping just that bit more than usual to get there in good health.

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