My family has deep roots in Atholl and Breadalbane and we have always been tied to the land and the fortunes of sheep, cattle and deer.
In 1887 my great-grandfather Peter McIntyre started working for the Macdiarmid Farming Co, Aberfeldy and would continue his work for them for 34 years, becoming farm manager for their vast hill farming enterprises.
It is a testament to our area and the tenacity of both families that we still earn our keep from the land and the stock upon it. At the zenith of this great farming enterprise, the outfit would send 7,000 ewe lambs off to wintering in Nairn and Moray from the south and west end of Loch Rannoch side.
The numbers of ewes and cattle were great and the staffing was vast.
Today I had occasion to reflect upon this as I gazed south and tracked my vision west from Meal Dubh while gathering in the Drumchastle ewes for scanning. Loch Rannoch was like a mirror, seldom this last while have we enjoyed such a still day.
I looked upon the south shores and spied vast tracts of land now bereft of sheep and cattle. I contemplated the stillness of that great body of water and the quietness now found in the ruins of houses and long abandoned fanks and the painful detriment it has brought to rural communities as hill farming has declined throughout our country.
I couldn’t dwell on that too long however, as the ewes were in big fettle due to a kind winter and they were still performing party tricks of escape and evasion usually reserved for the summer and autumn.
We have not yet scanned the hill ewes, by the time you read this I will have either drowned my sorrows or celebrated heartily.
Regardless of the outcome it’s getting the next bit right now that counts.
The first of the fat hoggs were sold last week and they did well, averaging 20kg. Eight fat cattle joined them on the load and averaged 325kg, all before their second birthday, and while the price could be better on the beef front, it could always be worse although input prices are escalating at a worrying rate.
We will welcome the first calves of 2022 into the world in the next week or so. I love calving time, especially in the spring and we are lucky that these wonderful Luing cows don’t need any lessons on mothering.
Myself and the “Borlick speed shearer” have had the pleasure since the new year of coaching Aberfeldy JAC speech-making team. I approached this task with mixed emotions as when we competed it was a gie auld pair of craturs that coached us!
Nevertheless, it has been a privilege to have watched these young folk grow in confidence and enjoy it. I believe it is one of the most important competitions in young farmers, and the team did us proud.
My ancestor Peter McIntyre, by all accounts, was quite an operator, so too was Mr Macdiarmid and they enjoyed a fruitful relationship, with the latter giving the former a pretty free hand to run their hill farming interests.
One time Peter decided to visit the Cruach hirsel which consisted of some 3,000 wedders. They were looked after by a reclusive stalker who was diligent but reluctant to involve himself in handlings and such. Peter decided he would visit the family and was intent on integrating them into the outfit.
He led his cuddy over much of the journey as the ground wasn’t fit to ride, and as he approached the house a young boy of around eight years old was paddling in a pool of the burn below the house.
On Peter’s approach the horse whinnied and the startled loon ran up towards the house roaring in Gaelic “mother there’s a monster coming up the burnside the same shape as father”. Now that is a simple life!
Today as I gazed across the water that countless members of my family have done before me my thoughts turned to those people of Ukraine – a country rich in agricultural fertility – and the horrors they are facing.
Successive UK governments have played fast and loose with energy policy and now we suffer serious problems.
The same flippancy has been exercised in agri policy and food security.
Our hills and glens may again be called upon to produce food and fibre and this need not be at the cost of biodiversity.
We may well be in for some difficult times ahead and whiles I envy yon laddie that day guddling for brownies.