This is Lynbreck Croft

We’re really excited to share some footage that was recently made at Lynbreck. We’ve had a lot of people ask us what it is we are hoping to achieve here so we thought a short film might be the best way to put it across.

 

We’re new to crofting and as young farmers and new entrants, we want to invite you all to come on the journey with us as we try to build a diverse crofting business from scratch where all decisions have a positive environmental outcome across an integrated network of habitats. We know we’ll make mistakes along the way (and already have…) but we believe in the vision we have and through hard work, an open mind and a hand out for help we think we can achieve something really positive.

So pop the kettle on or grab some popcorn as for the next 5 minutes, This is Lynbreck Croft.

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Team Pig

Now that our new pig workforce has arrived at Lynbreck we’d like to tell you more about our plans for them and their successors. First and foremost we want to let them do what they do best – snuffle day in and day out. It will therefore be our challenge to harness the snuffle energy and put it to good use around the croft…

 

We chose to get three rare breed Oxford Sandy and Black as they are the perfect breed for us; they’re hairy, hardy and hardworking which is ideal as they’ll have to cope with being in some fairly rough weather (although we will of course provide them with a cosy hut at all times). They’re also very friendly which is a big bonus and we aim to maintain a stress free environment for them and let them get on with their jobs.

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We believe that all animals kept at Lynbreck need to have a purpose to their croft lives while ultimately contributing to food production. That means every breed of animal will have a specific role to play in benefitting the land. Put simply, if the land is healthy it will help to keep the animals healthy.

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So, Team Pig is going to be very busy with a lot of snuffle related jobs ahead for them that we think will make them very happy. We have started them off in a fenced strip of land below one of our grazing fields where we’ll be planting a native tree shelterbelt this winter. It is currently a mini jungle of dock, nettles, bracken (which we crushed repeatedly this summer) and cocksfoot grass.

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The plan is to move the pigs through in little electric fenced paddocks and keep them there just long enough to hit back some of the vegetation which will then reduce the amount of competition for the wee trees, at least initially. The trick will be to avoid the ground being churned up too much which would damage the soil structure.

Upon completion of this task the pigs will then be promoted to the position of (drum roll) ‘woodland restorers’.

They will be moved to a strip of birch woodland with very little species diversity both in terms of trees and ground flora. Under a Forestry Commission approved management plan, the woodland will undergo some restoration work in the coming years. This will include some enrichment planting of other species this winter, but we’d also like to see some natural regeneration of trees and an increase in woodland flower species in the future.

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Cue PIG SNOUTS!

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The pigs will be moved through the woodland in a similar fashion to the shelterbelt and will help clear some of the grass clumps and other dense vegetation. Again we’ll have to make sure that soil and tree roots won’t get damaged. This setting should really please the pigs because Oxford Sandy and Blacks are also known as Woodland Pigs! See? We knew they’d be the pigs for us….

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This kind of land management technique will require a lot of observation and experimenting, but we think it will be successful and could be used in all sorts of areas around the croft.

We’ll keep you posted on the snuffle progress…

Lismore

 

Yesterday we took ourselves over to a small island off the west coast of Scotland called Lismore which sits between Oban and Mull. Our destination for the day was a small farm called Sailean on the south-west side of the island. At under 80acres, it’s not a big farming unit but the work that they are doing there is starting to get more and more recognition as they are running the farm as a profitable business with no reliance on subsidies.

Gilly, Roger, Fieke and Dan are demonstrating that genuinely managing for the environment first does actually pay off. They use a model called Holistic Management, which put simply is a way of running a business based on environmental, social and economic outcomes. By using what they have around them, they have created a farm rich in biodiversity with happy animals and a place that more and more people want to visit. For us it was great to see the ideas that we have planned in action and working.

It was all so beautiful it’s a story best told in pictures.

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After a morning inside and a scrummy lunch, we had a look at the veg patch. An impressive display of just how much food you can grow. And everything in here is organic, with no digging and under a blanket of seaweed.

 

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We had a wander round the fields to get an idea of what they looked like. Flower rich, herb rich, grass rich wonderfulness. This has undergone a period of restoration grazing to get it back to this with no reseeding, fertilisers, herbicides, insecticides, nothing!

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In fact it was so wonderful we decided to test it. Shoes off, socks off and off we went. It was the softest, spongiest grassland we’d ever walked on

 

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We then, literally, had a good root around. Beneath the grass was a thick matt of roots before the soil. It is so important in good grassland management to avoid any patches of bare earth.

 

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Just to prove how beautiful it is….

 

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And here are the cows. A bunch of very chilled Highlanders (with a wee Aberdeen Angus cross) happily munching away. They graze their animals in small paddocks which they divide up using electric fencing. Each day the cows go to a new paddock so that they get fresh grass and don’t take too much or too little from the areas they are in. Takes about 45minutes to move them daily – job done.

 

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This is a chicken tractor! The chickens are also moved around, grazing on paddocks where the cows have already been. They help to break up the cow pats and fertilise the ground with their own poos.

 

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No strimmers round here. The team make a point of taking out a scythe with them. That way they can quickly cut back rushes, thistles etc to prevent them from spreading. They also use the scythe to cut the grass under the electric fencing – just a 5 minute job.

 

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And this is an incredibly impressive piece of kit. A simple ram pump in a stream fed by a small pond a few meters higher. This can pump water to nearly all parts of the farm, with the exception of the much higher hill ground. Roger built this himself at impressively low cost.

 

The link below takes you to their website. Definitely worth a look for more information and a good idea of how a Lynbreck version might look in years to come. Exciting times for us

https://www.lismoregrassfedbeefandlamb.co.uk/

Oh, and we can vouch that the beef is deeeeelicious!

Busy Bees

Yesterday we had a day away to attend a course on Beekeeping run by Highland Bee Supplies. We’ve been planning to get some bees from the outset so it was good to finally spend some time learning more about what we are letting ourselves in for.

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It’s important to look the part

After a morning in the classroom learning about all things bee related, we were kitted up and had a short session learning about the bits and bobs we would need for our bees.

 

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So many different hives to choose from! We’re definitely going for some of the pretty wooden ones

 

Then we took a dander down to the hives. Despite being rudely disturbed to be poked and prodded by eager students, the bees were remarkably calm and very nice to us.

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Bees beware….

 

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This is the moment when you know the bees are about to come out and you’re thinking ‘Stay calm, Stay calm’ Gulp…

 

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And here they are. A very civilized group

 

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There’s probably a few thousand bees on that frame

 

We learnt lots yesterday but one of the things that stuck the most is how important beekeeping is. With a loss of habitat, spread of disease and impact of insecticide spraying, feral honey bee populations can’t survive so it’s up to beekeepers to keep things going.

After the day we were totally buzzing (bad bee joke…) and went away with our sparkly new bee suits. We’ll have 2 nuclei of bees coming next Spring to get us started and that can’t bee (……) soon enough as we have lots of work we need them to do. Our bees will play a key role in helping us to restore our grasslands and woodlands. By spreading pollen they will help plants to reproduce and therefore spread in abundance. Oh and of course, all being well, they’ll be making us some honey which we’ll extract, bottle and sell from the croft. Yummy! Beerilliant…..

A working croft

We get lots of people asking us ‘oooo what have you got on your croft?” By “what have you got” we assume they mean what animals have we got. We explain to them that apart from our 16 chickens and a pretty snoozy labrador, we don’t have any animals. But that doesn’t mean we’re not a working croft…..

Of course our plan is very much to get animals and that is something we are working towards. In fact we are VERY busy with that at the minute as ultimately we plan to produce a range of high quality food (as much of it as we can in fact) using animals that have had a good life working for us on the croft.

But at the minute we’re working hard to get our croft ready for our animals. Take our current project. We’ve just had a 10 year management plan approved by the Forestry Commission to restore our existing woodlands.

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We’ve been getting a bit of fencing done around our woodlands to help us keep animals out as well as to help us keep animals in!

 

Our first goal is to enrich these by adding in a few more species of trees and help to introduce a bit of age diversity.

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We’ve been extending this existing woodland up the slope to the field edge. As well as trees, we’ve been mixing in some smaller shrubs

 

We also plan to create some nice decaying wood habitat and improve the ground flora to allow space for natural regeneration of both trees and wildflowers – we’ll use our pigs to do this in the early days and then introduce the cows later on. Finally we’ll plant a new native shelterbelt which will link 2 existing woodlands and provide an important windbreak for our animals.

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This is the location of our new native tree shelterbelt. By planting this strip we’ll also be connecting 2 existing woodlands providing a nice wooded corridor across the croft

 

So the woodlands will benefit the animals, and the animals will benefit the woodlands. It’s exactly that ‘mutually beneficial’ approach that we aim to apply across the croft.

A Spring of 4 seasons

With Spring well and truly here, and Summer on its way, life on the croft hasn’t stopped for a minute. During the last month alone we’ve had the most severe snow storm of the winter which has been followed by the driest spell since 1995. We never thought we would say this (and may live to regret it) but please rain PLEASE!

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The wind bringing the snow was the worst we’ve had since we moved here. Pure whiteout!

 

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It was even too cold for the chickens wee feet. Chicken wellies have been added to the shopping list for next winter

 

Despite the crazy weather patterns, it has been great to see the trees that we planted a few months ago burst into life. They could definitely do with a good soaking but so far they are hanging on.

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Baby Tree Number 1 – A little willow

 

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Baby Tree Number 2 – A little Hazel

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Baby Tree Number 3 – a Rowan

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Baby Tree Number 4 – an Elm

And around the croft we’re enjoying the hidden speckled colours of wildflowers emerge from the undergrowth.

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Can’t beat a bit of Wood Anemone. The clue is in the name as to what else should be growing around here

 

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Standard shot of eggs and bacon (Birds Foot Trefoil for anyone who’s thinking, what??)

 

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Toot toot it’s Bugle! Another woodland loving species

 

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Ever seen this up close? Catkins on Bog Myrtle. Apparently the aroma of this plant helps to keep the midges away so we’ll be found rolling around in this sporadically throughout the summer

 

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From young woodland to old. It’s starting to take shape

 

And while nature has been busy, we’ve been working away in the background planning for the bigger beasts that will be arriving at Lynbreck in the not too distant future. We’ve put in an order for our first 3 pigs which will arrive in late September. We’ve chosen a native breed called Oxford Sandy and Black – they are super hardy, super hairy and super cute. We’ve got lots of jobs lined up for them.

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Introducing Oink 1 and Oink 2

 

And come next Spring we have this young lassie joining us.

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See the wee black cow of the family? That’s Ronnie

 

Ronnie (and one of her pals) will be coming to live at Lynbreck along with a few others. They will be put to work on munching down our rank grassland and helping us to restore it to something much more diverse with lots of different grasses and wildflowers.

So things have been busy as ever here, but for now, we must get back to that raindance…..

The Big Lynbreck Tree Plant

So to say it’s been a while since the last post is a bit of an understatement. For those of you who follow us on Facebook and Twitter, you’ll know why. For the rest of you, we have a bit of explaining to do.

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And here is our explanation. Lots and lots and lots of…….

Since the last post, croft life decided to step up a gear which has put us into overdrive. The main task entertaining us has been planting trees on our hillside – 15,000 in fact. We had the trees delivered at the end of February and had to have them all in the ground by the end of March – cue a planting frenzy!

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This was a common sight for passers driving by. We’ve been called the ‘tree planting bumblebees’ or the ‘tree planting mountain hares’ or the ‘mad tree planting hill folk’  (ok so we made the latter up but we’re sure people driving by on rainy days must have thought that)

Come rain, snow, wind or sun (the latter more occasional than the others) we were out there 7 days a week planting a mixture of Birch, Aspen, Rowan, Willow, Alder, Wych Elm, Hazel, Hawthorn and Holly. We’re planting Oak as well but that’s not going in until the Autumn.

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This was the snow (which incidentally was more like sleet)…..

 

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and this was the snow again. We managed to pick the ‘snowiest’ month to plant in. Well done us……

 

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This was the sunshine after the rain. Ok so we really didn’t have that bad a time of it

 

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Mother Nature was kind to us every now and again with a few rays of sun. Just enough to keep the motivation up

It’s been quite an experience and one that’s in many ways just beginning – we have to try and keep the wee things alive now. And we’ve had lots of people ask why – why are you planting all those trees?

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A wee tree snug as a bug in it’s little vole guard

Well for us it’s simple. We think trees do good things for the land and the environment as a whole. We plan to use our new woodland habitat, once it’s established, as an integrated part of our croft land management. The trees overtime will improve the soil and when they get bigger will provide a super place for our cows to roam over acres of sheltered hill ground. It’s a wee bit off yet of course but we’re planning for a Lynbreck of the now and of the future.

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Imagine what this might look like in 20 years time!

So now it’s all done, we can sit back, relax and watch them grow. HA! As if. We’ve already started to sink our teeth into the next project(s). Watch this space……