It’s that time of year when we find ourselves chatting to people about quite why we live here… tourists, visitors to the island, volunteers… all have the same set of questions about why someone would want to live on a remote island. As ever we explain our story and how we came to be here, what works for us, what we find tough and why on balance we stay.
This weekend we’ve been back at the mercy of nature once more. The turkey chicks who were doing so very well and had reached a week old, were thriving, the mother doing a fine job of keeping them all safe while the male seemed to help out here and there suddenly reappeared on our croft yesterday looking hungry and all alone. All of the chicks nowhere to be seen. The crows and ravens have been really active these last few days, robbing goose nests, hounding the penned chicken and her chicks and hassling the various broody chickens we have around the croft. Although we didn’t see it we are safe to assume that the chicks met their fate with the corvids. This makes us very sad.
But as I have often said these last four years ‘If you keep animals, you will lose animals’. It never gets easier, there is always sadness, guilt, a pain in your pocket (as after all these are not pets, they are livestock with prices on their heads and costs attached to their being) but most importantly an opportunity to think about what you might do differently next time. With all our birds we like to try and let them raise their young without any interference. After all they have been raising young forever, we have been crofters for just four years. We raise our children without any intervention or folk assuming they know better than we do and so wherever possible we try to allow our animals the freedom to learn themselves and raise their own young. This also has a sound theory behind it that the more self sufficient the adults are in rearing young the more they will pass on that knowledge to their young and the more adapted to life here they all will be. Following this approach we accept that we will lose a percentage of young, possibly a little higher than the farmers usual odds but that they will all have a better life for it and it is a long term bigger picture view for building a resilient, healthy, high welfare brood of livestock.
So on the positive side we know both male and female turkey are fertile and breed healthy, well formed young. We know the hen can sit for the broody period, hatch young and take care of the very early stages of motherhood. We know neither of our birds kill their own young (which can happen with some birds). We know that they are no match for the cunning and relentless crows and ravens. This means next time she goes broody, and we are confident there will be a next time, we will let her sit and incubate, hatch and then pen her and her chicks to get them raised to a stage they are no longer vulnerable. Our approach has always been to observe, see what happens naturally without our involvement and then see in what way we could have improved things if at all.
In that vein today a broody hen who has been sitting on precariously placed eggs in a corner of the woodshed hatched the first chick. It was in a ridiculous location and would have surely gotten trapped and been rat food so we knocked up a quick house, gathered her, the chick and the remaining three eggs she was sitting on and posted them all into the new house which is within a small pen. She went straight back on the chick and the eggs so fingers crossed we have simply aided nature rather than trampled on it.