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……

Holistic crofting

Last week Lynbreck Croft went on tour (well one of us did…) down to deepest darkest Englandshire to attend a course run by RegenAg UK on Holistic Management. We were fortunate enough to be given a scholarship place funded by Holistic Management International so we were very grateful to be in attendance.

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This was the first lesson to be learned. We’re not quite there yet….

Holistic Management is a very clever, yet very straight forward way of setting up, running and managing a farm or croft business. It’s all about setting a clear vision for what you do, planning how you’re going to do it and figuring out not just how it’s going to pay for itself but how it will actually make you a bit of cash – maybe not a millionaire but certainly a few spare coins.

 

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There were lots of different people in attendance from long established beef and diary farmers as well as aspirational farmers to representatives from bigger organisations including the National Trust and Surrey Wildlife Trust. And there was no sitting back and simply getting fed information – interaction and involvement was key!

 

The best thing about the whole model is that in addition to the business side, it pays particular attention to good environmental land management. It’s all about having healthy, organic matter rich soils that grow plentiful herb and wildflower rich grasslands providing food for happy, relaxed cows.

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On Day Two we saw grazing in action. With tenant farmer Rob Havard, we visited a National Trust estate where planned mob grazing is producing astonishing results

 

How does this happen? Well it’s a mutually beneficial relationship based on entirely natural principles. In its simplest form, good soils produce (or have the ability to produce) good forage for cows. In return cows help to keep the grass growth vigorous and fertilise constantly through poops and pees. The trick is to keep the cows moving regularly so that they don’t eat too much or too little of one area and the natural fertiliser is spread across your whole grazing area. Another clever trick is to give the cows some wildflower seeds in their mineral licks. Once it works its way through, the cows are effectively spreading new seeds to help introduce/keep/spread a mix of herbs and wildflowers. AND as an added bonus, overtime these soils will grow in organic matter and perform a similar role to trees in helping to lock up carbon!

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There are only 2 words to describe this scene – Happy cows!

 

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But we had to do some work as well. Measuring the grass sward and using these figures to help us calculate how much grass there was across an area and then how many cows it could feed. This then helps to determine how big a mobile paddock has to be to provide enough food per day for the cows

 

It all sounds a bit too good to be true eh? But we think we might just give it a go. There’s lots of thinking to do, planning to do and figuring out to do but if it does work (and there are plenty of examples to back this up) well we might just be on to a winner. Let’s just see how we go…..

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Oh and there was one other highlight. Fantastic food provided for us every day by course co-ordinator Natasha, with food mostly sourced from the produce of participants farms. We weren’t able to contribute as much as others (yet, I hasten to add….) but we happily brought some eggs from our chooks.

The cycle of life

This week provided us with a very thought-provoking experience. It has made us think a lot about the cycle of life and the role we are allowed to play in it. We think living ‘on and off’ the land is all to do with respect for life, as well as respect for death.

A few days ago I shot my first roe deer (see previous blog post for background). I had been out stalking a few times previous but came back empty handed. However this week I got myself into a position where I knew it was now or never. After watching it through the scope of my rifle for about a minute, I pulled the trigger.

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This little makeshift hut was here when we bought the croft. It provides good cover from which to stalk over the gully

 

What happened afterwards is now a haze. The whole thing was over in about 10 seconds. But what I do know is that from the point of committing to the shot, the focus centred on ensuring a quick, respectful death. When it was all over we quietly gralloched it on the hill, removed its head, buried the lot and carried it home.

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Our make shift larder – table, butchers saw and a gambrel on a pulley (to hang the carcass). Ignore the rest of the mess in there….

 

We have made a make shift larder in the croft house so on our return we skinned it, butchered it, bagged it and it all went into the freezer. It was really important for us to make sure that we used as much of the animal as we could and everything else would be returned to nature. After that we had a VERY large dram….

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Some of the larger cuts of meat we butchered

 

So in summary the whole ordeal was quite a new and humbling experience, and one that will happen again in the future. This is something we believe we have to do and is an integral part of our woodland establishment, croft management and land stewardship. The deer I killed lived a good life eating unimproved and untreated (pesticide or herbicide treated) grass, flowers and trees. Its meat will be full of natural goodness. If we can raise our livestock to have as good a life, eating vegetation rich in a mixture of flowers and grasses and a bit of rough grazing that is as good quality, well then our work here will be done.

 

So enough for now. Time to start preparing the venison for dinner tonight. Happy New Year one and all!