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Blog: The Scottish Midge

Jun 30, 2016 Written by
Blog: The Scottish Midge

The Scottish Midge and how to cope

In any combat scenario it is essential to know your enemy, so here then is the lowdown on that most fearsome of opponents, that fabled beast known for defeating intrepid globetrotters and reducing the most hardened holidaymakers to tears. The Scottish midge.

Complaining about the midges is a Scottish obsession, a bit like the English grumbling about the weather, but forearmed with the appropriate supplies and background information your holiday to the Highlands of Scotland need not end in retreat or surrender.

'Midges are tiny flying insects and are most commonly found in the north and west of the highlands between the months of June and September. The males are passive and of limited bother.  Although not dangerous, it is the adult females of the species that are the extreme nuisance for visitors. They carry more eggs than they can mature – to provide the yolk for the additional eggs they require protein from blood. Locals, tourists or goats, they are really not too fussy where it comes from'.

To avoid becoming an all you can eat buffet for these blood drinking pests there are a few simple steps you can take;

Fashion is a difficult thing to get right in the moorlands and glens of the Highlands of Scotland, coordinating your wardrobe with the colours of the season is never easy, but for hipsters the colour to be seen in this season is definitely white. Midges are attracted to dark colours so the lighter the better and if fashion faux pas don’t worry you, then baggy garments, multiple layers, trousers tucked into your socks and tops tucked into your belt will help prevent the little blighters from penetrating your defences. The tiniest amount of exposed flesh is often enough to allow the most persistent in and call for reinforcements. A midge net worn under a zipped up hoodie may look like some sinister superhero costume but short of a spacesuit it’s the best option for survival when the conditions are unfavourable.

Conditions for midges can actually be predicted fairly accurately. If you are flexible then it is possible to minimise your exposure or even avoid them altogether. The Scottish Midge Forecast (yes this does exist I'm not kidding) does a great job, collecting data from traps and weather stations across the country to give an accurate prediction of where they are most likely to be hiding. In general they like specific conditions and times of day. 

Bright sunlight puts them off, as does even the most gentle breeze. They like warm and damp conditions the best, which makes dawn and dusk particularly attractive to them. They are usually found in damp and uncultivated places where there is a lot of undergrowth or thick vegetation, and areas where livestock are kept as they will happily munch on a goat if there are no tourists about. On days when conditions are particularly overcast, or it has just recently been raining, it is wise to have a back-up plan that avoids forests or fields. Fortunately there are a few hills in the Highlands, and with mountains comes altitude which also means less midges with them being significantly less common over 700metres, coupled with the increased likelihood of a bit of a breeze.

As long as there have been midges there has been fierce debate about how best to repel them. Natural remedies, old wives tales or chemical spray, everyone seems to have their own favourite. Traditionally crofters would tie bog myrtle around their ankles. More recently, in the middle of last century, smoking cigarettes was a common method of survival. For those who think chain smoking for an entire holiday to be a tad unhealthy then there are those that believe that an ale before venturing outside does wonders as these evil fiends don’t like the yeast in the blood. Teetotallers can apparently consume a spoonful of marmite for the same effect.

There are also those who believe that midges are attracted to a certain odour, so a clove of garlic eaten every day for a week before your holiday will repel the little monsters as long as you also remember not to use shampoo, scent or aftershave. The fashion conscious can somehow redeem themselves with a insect repellent wristband, it may not be the most effective but it does come in a range of pretty colours.

Midges are attracted to the increased amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere caused by breathing so without holding your breath for your entire holiday (not recommended) they are going to find you sooner or later. 

The most sensible option (and probably the safest) would be to use one of the specifically designed anti midge creams or sprays on the market. Something recommended by the British Military is 'So Soft by Avon'  a natural product that was originally designed as purely a beauty cream, but has proved so successful at repelling midges.

The midge is a fact of life for those of us who do live here, complaining is about as much use as trying to stop the tide. Instead of retreating from the fight, confront your enemy. You may find it’s not as scary as you thought.

Blog: Goat Bloat

May 31, 2016 Written by
Blog: Goat Bloat

Grass bloat can be a perennial problem in goats, especially those who are partly or wholly housed during the winter months.

This spring has been late one and will predictably arrive in a rush as temperatures rose this May. Winter has been long, wet and cold and this was not conducive to steady grass growth. With the sudden rise in temperature, grass will go into overdrive and the sugars contained within it will be high very quickly. This also applies to “browsings” - the goat’s favourite forage-that’s the stuff that most other grazing animals do not eat and includes young leaves and twigs, reeds and perennial weeds. 

So what causes Bloat?

Bloat is caused by eating food which produces a lot of gas over a short space of time, like high sugar grasses. Sometimes the goat will get a profusion of small bubbles in its rumen instead of large ones which it will not be able to belch up (my small son used to call this a “cud burp” a perfect description), How can I tell?

The goat will have “bloated” flanks and look very fat indeed, the left flank being more distended than the right. It will be very uncomfortable and show this by grinding the teeth, perhaps getting up and down and finally becoming recumbent. The breathing maybe short as lung expansion is reduced by the increasing gas bubbles inside the abdomen.

What to do?

Bring the goat, assess the severity and stop the goat from eating further. Here at Rare Breed Goats we use a drench of vegetable oil, an age old tried and tested method, passed onto me from my father - a drench of 25 ml of vegetable oil popped into the goats mouth should do the trick. The oil pops the bubbles and then allows the goat to belch again. Having tried this, wait to see if relief is reached. If things are not improving or getting worse now is the time to call the vet.

Your vet will be able to use a trocar to get into the rumen through the flank and then insert a canula which is a tube which will let the gas out. An experienced herdsperson may be able to help but a vet is your best option Aftercare Whatever treatment has resolved the problem, the goat’s rumen will need re-balancing in order for “rumination” to continue without further problems. Feeding the goat live yoghurt(one 4/6oz tub twice a day for two days) and re-introduction of basic foodstuffs and in particular young branches. Apple twigs are good for this but not plum or any other prunus varieties.

Over a period of 3 or 4 days the goat will resume normal digestion and careful timely turning out can commence again.

Dietary ways to avoid bloat With luck, through the winter months you have been able to feed your goat the best hay possible.

If this is not the case, then 2 weeks before you expect to expose your goat to high protein grazing, elevate the fibre protein levels in the diet by feeding part horse haylage and part your standard hay.

Over those two weeks, bit by bit, reduce the hay ration and increase the haylage ration. Your goat will still get the same amount of forage but the protein level will increase. Feed by weight at around 2/3kgs per goat per day or 3/4 kgs per goat per day if no concentrates are fed.

Do not under any circumstances increase the concentrate ration or Alphalfa ration as that will definitely make your goat ill and may cause a different type of bloat.


Blog: Caithness in the Highlands of Scotland

Apr 30, 2016 Written by
Blog: Caithness in the Highlands of Scotland

Caithness in the Highlands of Scotland

Caithness is a historic county in extreme northern Scotland, facing the Atlantic Ocean and the Pentland Firth (which separates it from the Orkney Islands) on the north and the North Sea on the east. It contains Dunnet Head,  the northernmost point in Great Britain, which juts into the Atlantic east of Thurso. The area is part of a plateau about 1,000 feet (300 metres) in elevation in the south, sloping gently north and northeast to the coast, where it is truncated in a series of cliffs up to 400 feet (120 metres) high. 

Above this plateau of old red sandstone and Highland schists rise several massive hills in the south, including Morven, with an elevation of 2,313 feet (705 metres), and Scaraben, which reaches 2,054 feet (626 metres). In the north the plateau descends to alluvial plains just above sea level. Fertile glacial deposits and small lochs (lakes) cover the eastern area, and peat bogs predominate in the western two-thirds. Despite its northern latitude, Caithness has a temperate climate.

Caithness is rich in prehistoric remains from Neolithic times onward. Cairns, standing stones, and hill forts abound, and there are more brochs (ancient dry stone buildings) than in any other Scottish county. The area was an early Pictish province called Cait, or Cat, which was invaded by Norsemen. Its place-names testify to Norse domination. 

Traces of early Christian chapels are widespread, a very early example being St. Mary’s Forse, Thurso. Medieval castles, such as Dunbeath, are found on the coasts; inland castles are usually of a later date. For a time Caithness was firmly integrated into the Scottish kingdom by William the Lion by (reigned 1165–1214), but the Norse earls of Orkney held the earldom of Caithness until 1231. It passed in the Middle Ages to several noble Scottish families, including the Sinclairs and later the Campbells of Glenorchy. 
The estates were subsequently sold to several Caithness families, including the Traills of Castletown, who encouraged agricultural advances during the 18th century. In the 19th century the county enjoyed a measure of prosperity from its herring industries and the export of flagstones. During the 20th century, tourism, fine glass manufacturing, and a nuclear power and research facility at Dounreay supplemented the traditional economy. Wick and Thurso are the most important towns.
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