Eight Reasons to Buy Locally

Eight Reasons Why We Think Buying Locally From Darach Croft Makes Good Sense

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Part of our ethos on the croft is to reduce our environmental impact as far as possible. At the moment there is also a lot of coverage in the media about how bad for the environment farming, and particularly eating meat is. Here on the croft, we firmly believe that it is intensive farming practices are the issue, and this applies equally to any type of intensive farming whether livestock or arable. That’s one of the reasons that we are kicking off this list with environmental impact.

1) Reducing Environmental Impact

Local produce has to travel less far from the producer (us) to the consumer (you). ‘Food miles’ contribute to green house gases, traffic congestion and air pollution. We looked at the food miles associated with our latest beef and calculated that the cow started her life and ended her life on Mull, a total of 62 miles and two ferry trips travelled in total. The meat then travelled another 32 miles back to the croft.

We also farm less intensively using methods that mean our cows produce less methane (currently blamed for a lot of global warming). Less travel also means less time from our croft to your plate. This brings us nicely to Point 2 - Freshness.

2) Freshness

As our produce doesn't have to travel as far, it is fresher than produce bought from the supermarket and so is at its best. Supermarket eggs for example can be a week or so old when they are first put on the shelves - you can calculate the age by subtracting 28 days from the use by date to give you a ‘laid on’ date. Our eggs are usually sold the day they are laid or the day after. They don’t sit about for long as they taste so good! Neatly linking to Point 3 - Taste.

3) Taste

Commercially grown meat and commercially produced eggs lack the depth and intensity of flavour that small scale production achieves. People often comment on just how great our eggs taste, and many people who don’t like commercially reared lamb for example, find our croft-reared lamb much tastier and less fatty. This is in part because our lambs grow more slowly and so are more mature - think the difference between pine and oak if you’re burning wood! - as the way that we raise our lambs is geared towards flavour rather than the maximum weight in the shortest time.

4) Health Benefits

Locally sourced food is often healthier as fresh food is most nutritious. Also, when you buy fresh, unprocessed ingredients, you are more likely to create and cook your own food, rather than consuming processed food, which is better for you.

5) You Know Where It Came From

Buying locally gives you a better idea of where the produce you buy was grown or reared, and in the case of animals, that the welfare of the animals was a high priority. You can come and visit our free ranging hens whenever you want.

You are also more likely to get a personal service and the producer is more likely to be interested in your feedback and ensuring high levels of customer satisfaction. This relationship also means you are also more likely to get to know your producers better, and they will get to know you. We have met so many new people that we might not otherwise have met through our regular egg deliveries. There is therefore an important social aspect to buying locally - often having a chat over the croft gate.

6) Supporting the Local Economy and Community

Buying from independent local and locally owned businesses increases the likelihood that money will then be spent with other local businesses and service providers. This is really important, especially in remote rural communities where there is little in terms of major industry or large employers. Local producers and suppliers are also an important part of what shapes your local community and makes your community unique.

7) Supporting Traditional Farming Practices

By buying locally you are more likely to support small scale agricultural producers and traditional farming practices. Buying local also means that more, if not all of the money goes to the farmer (or crofter) themselves, allowing them to continue with traditional farming practices and avoid more intensive farming. Such traditional farming practices often use less fertilisers and other practices that can affect soil quality and impact the local wildlife. On to the local environment …

8) Supporting Your Local Environment

The countryside has historically been shaped by farming practices (which isn’t always good we admit), but buying locally and supporting small scale agricultural ventures means smaller pastures and more hedgerows, which is certainly good for wildlife. It also means that small scale producers can still raise livestock in an affordable way. This is most important as it means more cute lambs and calves!

The Vikings Are Here!

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Last weekend we said goodbye to our Jacob Tup when we took him up to his new home near Thurso, which was a bit sad. However, we collected three new ladies on our way home - our first Icelandic sheep.

About Icelandic Sheep

The first flock of Icelandic Sheep were brought to the UK in 1979 and another in 1990.

The breed was taken to Iceland by the Vikings in the 9th and 10th Centuries. Having not really bred with any other breeds of sheep for thousands of years, they are one of the purest breeds of sheep in the world.

They have a double layer fleece - in Icelandic, the long external coat is called tog (pronounced ‘tow’) and the fine internal coat þel (pronounced ‘thel’). When separated, they are used for different woolen products. The tow fibres are long, shiny, hardy and waterproof and thel are delicate, soft and insulating and provide great protection against the cold. They also have naturally short tails.

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Tog and þel are processed together to produce lopi, a distinctive knitting wool that is only made from the fleece of Icelandic sheep

They are hill sheep, so well suited to Scottish Highland weather and poor grazing.

As we have found already, they have strange eating habits, more like goats than sheep, appearing to prefer weeds to grass. As such they are renown to be good for clearing areas that other sheep won’t.

We are told that their meat has a fine grain and a very distinct and delicious flavour.

A link to the Icelandic Sheep Breeder’s of the British Isles can be found here.

Copper Beech Pollen

The bees have been really very busy this morning, probably because the sun is shining and there isn’t much wind.

Last week they were bringing back mainly yellow pollen (see right) in their pollen baskets, but today a lot of it is red, with a few examples of green pollen and a little bit of yellow.

We looked at the reasons why bees collect nectar and pollen in the last post.

Using our colour chart and looking at what is growing around us, the red pollen that they are bringing back is probably from the Copper Beech trees. The green pollen that you can see is probably from Holly or Mountain Ash / Rowan trees and the yellow pollen is probably from the Common Beech that our many of our hedges are grown from, or from Dogwood.

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The Arrival of the Bees

Hugh shaking out the last of the bees

Hugh shaking out the last of the bees

The most exciting thing for Hugh this week was definitely the arrival of the bees. Having put together the hive, the six brood frames with the nucleus (or ‘nuc’) of bees was transferred from the travelling box to the hive, and additional frames of wax foundation were added so that the bees will have plenty of space to lay eggs and store nectar and pollen in the brood box (the big box at the bottom in the picture).

The last of the bees in the box were shaken onto the ground just in front of the hive to find their own way in, guided by the pheromones from the queen bee in the hive.

We added a feeder full of sugar water to the space in the roof frame so that the bees would have enough sugar until they mapped out the area and had found plenty of sources of local nectar. I’m not sure if this was necessary, but some guides recommended it and it seemed like a good idea. To create room for the feeder I used an empty ‘super’ box as an ‘eke’. An eke (pronounce ‘eek’ as in ‘to eke out’) is a spacer that is added to create extra space in the hive, who can be for a variety of reasons, such as making space for a feeder, as here). The super box is the shallower box, just below the roof. Once the bees have created ‘pulled comb’ across most of the brood frames, and have stored enough honey for their own needs, the super will be filled with wooded frames containing wax foundation, and the bees will then start to store honey that we can harvest later in the year (hopefully) or next year (probably!).

By the next day, the bees were flying in and our of the hive in decent numbers:

Today, when we were watching the bees, we noticed that lots of them were carrying pollen on their back legs. Bees don’t just transport pollen between plants, they also bring balls of it back to the hive for food. Whilst nectar provides the bees with carbohydrates, pollen provides them with protein. These ‘pollen pellets’ can be up to 30% of a bee’s weight and hang off their hind legs in ‘pollen baskets’.

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Herdwick Lambs Changing Colour

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One of the distinctive things about Herdwick sheep is that they change colour over the first few years of their lives.

When they are born, Herdwick lambs are all black, even though their skin underneath is all white (in contrast to Jacob sheep, for example, whose skin is white under their white fleece, and black under their black fleece).

This lamb was born with only small white tufts on it’s ears, but within the first week, had developed a white patch its head too.

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At about two months old, the same Herdwick has started to develop goggles (or a maybe a balaclava?).

By six months or so, its whole head will have changed to white, and so will its legs.

When this lamb is first sheared next year, its new fleece will be a dark slate grey, and it will start to look a lot more like it’s mum (see picture below).

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July 2nd Update

This is the same lamb two weeks later. More white is now visible on her face.

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It is believed that the Herdwick breed was brought over by the Vikings in the 10th and 11th Centuries. The name ‘Herdwick’ comes from the Old Norse word ‘herdvyck’ which means 'sheep pasture'.

The majority (over 90% ) of Herdwicks live within the Lake District National Park, but they are eminently suitable for grazing the hills of the Scottish Highlands.

Hand Crofted at the Royal Highland Show

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Our Display on the Scottish Crofting Federation Stand

We are very excited to announce that Hand Crofted will be displaying examples of their artisan craft produce on the Scottish Crofting Federation stand at the Royal Highland Show.

Hand Crofted is a bespoke crafts enterprise, run as part of Darach Croft, comprising a collective of artisan craft makers based in Strontian, in the Highlands of Scotland.

We have been busy creating promotional materials and getting ready for the show. We think that our new flyers and business cards look great.

If you are at the Royal Highland Show, please visit the Scottish Crofting Federation to find out more about what they do, as well as experiencing first hand the love and attention that goes into each Hand Crofted item.

Although we cannot attend the whole show this year, Sarah will be visiting the show ground over the weekend.

Show Update

Sarah attended the Royal Highland Show on the Saturday and was very proud of our display on the Scottish Crofting Federation Stand …

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Upcycling the Sheep Trailer

The ethos at Darach Croft is to reduce waste and to recycle and upcycle wherever possible.

Sheep Trailer Mark One

Sheep Trailer Mark One

When we first got sheep, we needed a sheep trailer and picked up a lovely little 8x4 footer that I suspect had already been rebuilt once.

Several people said “Nice trailer, mind it doesn’t get nicked!” (we were living a higher crime area than Ardnamurcan at the time) so we spray painted sheep on the sides. Unfortunately, time took its toll and the trailer became too rotten and unsafe to use. It was consigned to the ‘someday I’ll fix it’ pile.

I was determined though, that it would not become one of those farmyard items that accumulates in a corner, just awaiting a time that someone actually gets round to fixing it and becomes a pile of rusting metal and rotten wood. However, when I stripped off everything that was rotten all I was left with was the tailgate, the chassis and the frame. And the chassis was in need of some attention too.

Undeterred I welded up the chassis, applied a generous coat of Hammerite to the chassis and frame and replaced the rotten floor with a new wood, fashioned from 12mm treated decking planks. So far so good. But it needed new sides and a new front.

Sheep Trailer Mark Two

Sheep Trailer Mark Two

When we moved into the croft, there was an old up-an-over garage door leaning up against the side of the garage. A quick calculation and I worked out that there was just enough door to cut up and turn into four side panels and a front panel.

A bit more Hammerite, and hey presto, Sheep Trailer Mark Two. A certainly a more sturdy version that was going to withstand the test of time much better.

Alas, some people were disappointed that Mark Two lacked some quirkiness that Mark One had displayed. “Well it won’t turn heads at the Sunart Agricultural Show like the last one did” I was told. So, I relented, and Sheep Trailer 2.1 was born.

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