Swiss-born Claire Simonetta, who is 26, helps to run a 3,000-hectare hill farm on Mull. She and her partner manage 1,800 sheep and 150 cattle
Wednesday 7 March
I have just returned from a very interesting trip to Brussels and Westminster, where I spent the last three days talking to politicians and policy advisers, to take a closer look at how the EU and UK parliaments work, and to discuss how we can move forward without compromising the future of the Scottish rural industries. One of the biggest Brexit worries for Scottish farmers appears to be the future of the agricultural policy and support payments. The current policy has not been working well for the past few decades and resulted in a lot of agricultural support payments going to the wrong people rather than genuine farmers.
Maybe Brexit will encourage us to take a closer look at farming support systems in other countries? Where people receive support for being active farmers rather than simply holding land, and where support is targeted at the most disadvantaged farmers, not the privileged.
Saturday 17 March
This morning, one of our first-time mums decided to give birth to her calf two yards beside a 20ft drop into a waterfall. Luckily, when the calf got up to make its first steps, it decided to head the opposite way, but managed to fall underneath a gate where it got jammed and could not get back up. The cold wind that had been blowing all morning meant that the calf got hypothermic (the body temperature dropped to a life-threatening level). When we found it, it was already pretty weak and not responding very well. We put it on the back of the quadbike and tried to persuade mum to follow. Because this was her first calf, she was very upset and confused, and refused to leave her friends. Since time was of the essence for the little calf, we simply brought the whole group up to the shed to make mum feel more comfortable. The calf was brought into the house and placed next to a heater where we spent two hours massaging it and giving it some of mum's milk.
Two hours later and I'm in the kitchen busy washing dishes. I did not hear the calf wake up but almost fall into the sink when a strong headbutt hits me from behind. I turn around and there, standing strong and tall, is a bright-looking calf gazing at me with the cutest, slightly confused expression in his big dark shiny eyes. He shakes his head, makes a wee snort and headbutts me again. When calves are hungry, they go up to their mum and headbutt the udder area to signal to their mother to 'let the milk down,' basically telling her to open the milk-bar. As I definitely cannot fulfil this demand, we take him outside to an eagerly waiting mother, and within two minutes can hear loud drinking noises from underneath her belly. Affectionate noises from the cow and a calf flicking its tail happily show us that all is well and it is time to leave them both to properly bond with each other. Happy end!
Tuesday 20 March
Today's a big day for little Jade. Jade was one of eight pups accidentally born last summer when my partner's Kelpie (an Australian working dog breed) 'Maid', and his Border Collie 'Jim', had a little affair behind the shed.
I had taken a fancy to one little bitch pup very early on and decided to keep her for myself. Now that she's older, I want to find out if she's born to be a sheep dog capable of driving sheep in a specific direction without harassing or splitting them. I take her off the lead and slowly walk up to the sheep who have now gathered in a group and are watching Jade. She has her full focus on them and slowly moves towards them. I intentionally make them walk away from me but Jade instantly goes round them and holds them between us. I change direction and again she balances them against me. Jade continues to keep them in a group in front of me, without getting too close to them or losing a sheep from the group.
I think Jade was born to be a herding dog.
Saturday 24 March
Feeding our ewes is taking longer now that they are so close to lambing. They no longer run as fast because their bellies are considerably heavier now, especially if they are carrying twins. These days, we drive into the field, switch off the engine and wait with putting the feed out until the last ewes have had a chance to catch up, otherwise they would not get as much to eat. But something catches my eye.
It's a little lamb, dancing around its mum who appears on a rock just above us, proudly presenting her pretty little girl. This is a bit of a surprise, as the ewes were not supposed to start lambing until early April to give the lambs a chance to be born when the weather is warmer. Having said that, I remember that two weeks before the official mating time started, one of our tups must have decided that he was born to be a jumping horse and got over fences – in with the ladies. Having proven his ability as a most worthy jumper, he probably assumed that his price was a rendezvous all-inclusive. So this young girl must be his daughter. I wonder how long until the urge to jump fences will hit her.
Wednesday 28 March
It's a glorious day on the bonny Isle of Tiree, with its beautiful white beaches. Over the last few days, I have visited various farms to carry out 'carbon audits' which assess the efficiency and carbon footprint of these farming businesses. This audit is a requirement for beef producers who have signed up for the voluntary 'beef efficiency scheme,' which is aimed at trying to make the beef industry more environmentally friendly. The animals here on the island are looking well and the carbon audits generate healthy results for these farmers.
Whilst the farms appear to have a good handle on how to use their resources efficiently, a lot of them are also involved with environmental management projects, whereby measures are taken on farm to help look after locally important wildlife. For example, they might temporarily take cattle out of fields that are an ideal breeding site for ground-nesting birds. By doing so, the birds can rear their young without the risk of being trampled. After the breeding season, cattle are put back into those fields to graze them down, which is essential to ensure that the grass is in suitable condition for the following breeding season.
Extensive agriculture can deliver huge benefits for the environment, but as a society, we appear to put our sole focus on financial benefits. All too often we define the importance of an industry by its annual turnover, increase in GDP and other financial measures. Have we forgotten about the values that go far beyond money?
Photograph by Iain MacKay