From an early age I wanted to be a full-time crofter. That’s a contradiction because crofting is an occupation usually worked alongside another job but in essence that was my ambition. Little did I think at that time I would become the Convener of the Crofting Commission.
I started keeping livestock from my early teenage years when I bought 20 Blackface ewes in MacDonald Fraser’s Mart in Inverness for about £3.80 a head. A Border Leicester ram was purchased a month later and the whole sheep enterprise was started for less than £100!! A couple of cows followed and so it progressed.
A year or so later, our local postman who was also a crofter noticed my flock and herd on his rounds and made comment to my mother something like, “that loon has got an affliction!” My mother caught unawares by the comment understandably looked alarmed. He went on to say, “Aye he’s going to be a crofter and there’s no known cure!” How right he was, I will never be cured.
I grew up learning all the practical aspects from my father as well as all the highs and lows. From achieving a good price when selling sheep and cattle to dead lambs and the occasional dead calf no matter how hard you tried to save them. All attempts were made to save weakly newborns and the kitchen Rayburn was a very effective revival method! I learned quickly that nature is cruel especially when combined with bad weather, marauding predators and downright bad luck.
Work was hard on crofts when I was growing up in the late 1960’s and 1970’s. Backbreaking jobs included; hoeing turnips by hand on a blistering hot June day; stacking, carting and building small bales of hay; hand clipping Swedes from December to February; feeding and mucking out cows tied in the byre from November until they were turned out in late April. I must admit I am not as physically fit as my father was, but the years of hard work couldn’t have done him much harm as he turned 90 last January.
During my years as an auctioneer I visited many of the crofting areas in the Highland and Islands and crofting output in the form of cattle and sheep sales contribute greatly to the economic activity. The proportion of these traditional activities has declined as other diversified ways of earning an income have been embraced. Tourism and renewable energy projects are among those projects. I am sure there are and will be others and proves crofters are adaptable and innovative in the use of their crofts.
To have a croft is a privilege not a right. It jars on my nerves to see so many neglected and unused pieces of croft land, which were worked and maintained not so long ago and have now gone to “rack and ruin”. Land is like a house if it is not regularly maintained it is a depreciating asset which quickly becomes derelict and unusable.
There must be an incentive to work, maintain and invest in a croft. This incentive does not always have to be about financial reward but coupled with lifestyle and satisfaction in seeing a well worked and productive croft where a family can live in a beautiful environment.