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  • Writer's pictureHighland Croft

The Circle Of Life

Autumn has arrived on the croft and for us in the hills that means getting ready to send some of our animals down the road to the abattoir. In a way, this is where the circle of life begins to close. Some of the hoggs that we get butchered we have helped into the world, lambed them, reared them with a bottle maybe. We have looked after them and given them all our care. Melvin, the steer that is due to go this year, needed a helping hand when he was born and his mother wouldn't let him suckle as her teats were sore. It feels like yesterday that I marched him up the fields to the cattleyards between my legs, confined his mother Millicent and milked her sore udder to give her some relief and tubefeed Melvin, until he could take a bottle, and eventually was able to drink himself. Every day for about a week we did that, in every weather, getting kicked across the yard and taking hours out of our already busy life.

I will miss our pigs, Elspeth and Primrose, as they are probably some of the funniest animals I ever had, loving belly scratches and visists by the treat box.

Our Freerange Pigs are enjoying a great life

I will have a laughing and a crying eye when they go. This is part of farming: we decide who lives and who enters the foodchain. A tough decision, for sure, if you over-think it. But from a very primeval part, deep down in your guts, it's a natural decision. And I don't just say that as a bonmont because I look forward to eating chops and roasts. And of course I do!

But going with my animals all the way makes me proud. I'm with them from the beginning when they are born until almost to the end. We don't kill and butcher them ourselves, you see, we run them down to the abattoir where they are done professionally. We ensure that they have the best life and death possible and by eating them, we give them a purpose. Without that, they wouldn't even exist and that would be more sad than killing them. Farmers don't fill their fields with cute white lambs because they enjoy looking at them or because they should somehow be part of an idyllic rural scene.

What we do on the croft is pretty much only possible on a small scale, but it suits us. We keep a fairly small number of animals and only put a few off for slaughter each year. It won't make us rich but it is something that I totally stand for with my name and my face. Those buying meat from us don't just get top quality produce, they also get the whole story of the animals and the croft where the cows, sheep and pigs have grown up and spent their lives. I therefore encourage people to come and pick their orders up here to see everything for themselves. Traceability is so crucial in times where we get more and more disconnected from the origin of the food that we put into our mouth and our bodies.

Rearing and eating animals for me is the most natural thing to do. We live in a symbiotic relationship with each other. Tom and I live with, for and of our animals. All our time, love, money and care we put into them.

Our Freerange beef cows spend their life outside all year round in a natural herd.

When I look in the hills around us with its remains of neolithic burnt mounts, cairns and roundhouses, I am reminded that we are only the latest generation in a long chain of humans who have farmed this land before us. For thousands of years people have been harnessing nature and its creatures, have tried to improve the fertility of the ground and lived with and for their animals. Like our farming ancestors of the stone age, our existence and survival depends on our beasts. And the health of the very land they occupy, in turn, depends on these animals who clear the ground and prevent wilderness from taking over, thus enabling wildlife like ground-nisting birds to thrive and keeping tick-numbers down, for the benefit of everybody. The feeling of inter-connectedness, of being dependent on each other, resonnates deeply with me. We give and we take, from the animals and from the hills.

There isn't a big profit margin in farming or even in direct meat sales, despite our prices being higher than what your average supermarket can offer you. Rearing them costs an awful lot of time and money. Sometimes it feels like just feeding them £20 notes and I don't even dare to work out what the time would be worth that I spend tending to them, feeding them, shifting them to a new field, administering expensive medicine as and when needed or doing all the other little and big jobs that animal husbandry involves.

I believe in what we are doing and the way we are doing it. It has to be worth our while financially, at the end of the day. But there is nothing wrong with giving your animals names, affection and love before eventually eating them.

Investing in good quality local produce is directly an investment into your own health and wellbeing as well as benefiting the local economy and general animal welfare by enabling caring, small-scale farming and cutting down for example long transport times on packed animal transporters across the country or even further afield. What used to be taken for granted - knowing who produced your food, where and how - has become somewhat of a luxury and out of the ordinary. Let's take a step to reverse this disconnect deliberately and mindfully. In this modern world we will never be able again to grow all the food we require ourselves. But we can all do our bit, one mindful little step at a time, to make our food production more wholesome and sustainable, for the sake of everybody involved, from producers to consumers while ensuring the welfare of our animals who are the essential centre of this chain. And once you take your delicious, succulent lamb roast out of the oven, when you tuck into your juicy beef fillet steaks, the circle of life closes, once again, but not for the last time.

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