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  • Writer's pictureHighland Croft

Let's Have Ponies And Chickens

Admittedly - obviously we have most of the animals we have because I wanted them: the pug, all the funny looking chickens, the ponies, the horse, the Hebridean and Shetland sheep. If Tom had his will, we would only have a working collie dog, boring-looking chickens that lay lots of eggs, no ponies, certainly no horse, and only white uniform Cheviot sheep. But what sort of joyless existence would that be?! Also - what would I do with the children?

We don't do computer games and we don't watch much telly - a couple of things on Iplayer via the tablet (Strictly Come Dancing namely - I do like a bit of sparkle ...) but only for maybe half an hour a day. Which is really economical, as one show lasts us three or four days. We don't actually have a proper telly, nor a couch to sit on. The kids don't even have many toys, compared to other kids, but still enough to make a mess of the house. In other words: More than enough for my liking. The truth is I can genuinely not be bothered with a lot of things, and consumerism is one of them. I have figured out that I don't need to show my love by spending money; spending time is so much better, and really - are they going to remember the flash new trainers I buy them that they will have outgrown in a few months time or carrying wood to dad's new man-cave and lighting a fire or feeding the cows with Mum or Dad on the bike? It's true, they are maybe too young to remember specific situations and events as they get older. It is however character-building, whether or not kids can later recall just why they have turned out the way they have.

The other thing I cannot be doing with - I've already alluded to it - is mess in my house. Since we only have a small cottage, that leaves me only with one alternative: Turf the kids outside, come rain or shine. Since they were babies, they have their daytime nap outside the living room window in their pram. Weather dependent, they will be bundled up in woollen rugs and a sleeping bag or protected by a raincover, but unless there is gale force wind or hail, they will be outside. In fact, my kids will not sleep indoors during the day, even if I tried. Their cheeks will be rosy, but they contentedly sleep for three hours through a snow storm.

I prefer the wee ones to play with their ponies than with generic interchangeable plastic junk. I'd say they learn a lot more when playing with their pet lambs in the paddling pool compared to being glued to a screen nonstop. Also I personally find it hilarious when my stark naked 2-year old is crouching down next to Lamby-Lamb, both having a good big drink like two gazelles at the watering-hole.

Also I would argue that keeping ponies is a lot cheaper and more economic than forever buying into the latest tech-frenzy. My ponies will, everything being well, easily live for 25 or 30 years. Will you still play the same video games you got this Christmas even two years from now?

It reflects some sort of consistency and without knowing that every day is a day at school, my kids learn responsibility, caring for their animals and loving them profoundly. For the myth that farmers don't care for their livestock and are only after profit couldn't be further from the truth. Show me the banker that plasters his newborn's nursery in pictures of stock exchange graphics and places a plush bank note in their cot.

I wouldn't exactly say we are brainwashing our children, but we gently point them in a direction we'd like them to go, if you know what I mean. The books they read are mainly about animals. Down on the Farm is a great programme on the BBC from which Tom and I are learning ourselves. Many of the toys they have are animal- or farm related, like our ride-on tractor or the mini-sheepcrooks that Santa brought this year.

At the age of two, my daughter took on the responsibility for rearing a pet lamb which she did - with a minimum of help when it came to mixing up bottles - perfectly and reliably. The whole summer they were inseperable, with Pip lamb even spending time in the house when she was unwell (wearing a nappy, of course). Most days, the kids will come out to feed the chickens, clean their house and some particularly patient ones will even allow to have themselves picked up and stroked. In the summer, Tom and Eleanor sit on a tree trunk in the chickens' run after letting them out and share a tin of mackerel while watching the wifies going about their daily business.

Not every day on the croft is full of highlights and action like working sheep or cows. It's about making the seemingly not so special moments special too, though. Like hopping and crawling across hay bales and enjoying rides on the bike or in the trailer (under supervision).

Crofting for us wouldn't be half as much fun if we didn't have the children: If not for the next generation, then who would we do it for? Also, just slaving away in solitude would be soulbreaking. Yes, things take forever longer now with two very small children in tow. But equally, even though this way of working is less efficient, on the whole it is more enjoyable. And the journey is the goal, not just ticking off bullet points on your daily To Do List. It's easy to forget about that sometimes in the middle of the daily grind.

It is satisfying to teach the kids the work we do and are passionate about. There are not many jobs in this world where you can - or have to - take your wee ones along every day. Farming is also one of these jobs that requires a high grade of identification, self-sacrifice and devotion: If you don't believe in it, there is no point in doing it and you won't get a good job done either. Instilling a solid work ethic in the next generation - whether or not they will one day choose a career in agriculture - can only be beneficial, as it's the foundation of every successful career.

Having some fun things along the way - like fancy chickens and ponies - surely helps to keep the motivation up and helps make crofting interesting and enjoyable for the kids and for ourselves, too. And to make the the whole thing even more interesting, there is money involved, too: I believe in paying your children for the work they do. Tom was never given anything in return for his help on the farm where his father was a manager. As a consequence of that, he never took great interest in farming, he wasn't given any tasks or responibilities and hence he didn't identify with it, let alone poured his heartblood into it. That all came many years later, but sadly when he was growing up, he was never encouraged to get involved.

Eleanor however owns a couple of Shetland sheep and whatever she makes in lamb- or meatsales will be her pocket money. There needs to be a relation between the work you put in and what you gain from it and in my opinion, kids are never too young to learn that - but in a positive way. Sadly, her sheep Schnucksi disappeared together with her lamb, so I guess we will just replace them for the young shepherdess to start her flock properly. Luckily, her birthday almost coincides with the Rare Breed Sale in March, so while I will be busy in the chicken section (as always), her Dad can get busy in the ring. She already has her shepherd's crook, so all she needs now is her own puppy - but that may have to wait a few years yet, until I'm ready for another animal ...

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