Shetland sheep are a really hardy breed and, living here on Fair Isle, they certainly have to be. They live out year round (aside from when they’re brought in for a couple of days after lambing) and are exposed to the worst of the weather – torrential rain, snow, hail, 100mph+ winds…… Throughout the winter months they get a daily feed of sheep nuts but, with the grass very sparse, they’re given good amounts of silage to ensure they’re eating enough to see them through to lambing & keep them in good condition.
Silage is a really precious commodity here and almost every croft has at least one designated ‘silage park’, from which we try and get enough bales to see us through the winter. But how do we actually get the silage in the first place? In May we spread fertiliser and then the park will be closed off (and we hope the sheep don’t find a way in!).
In July and August the parks get cut – the outsides will get cut first and then later the insides.
After a few days the ‘wuffler’ is brought in which turns the cut grass over, helping it to air and dry. We also turn it by hand, using special hay rakes, to help it dry further.
The baling and wrapping is a real community event – everyone helps, from young to old, and we work from croft to croft. The baler works its way round the field, usually followed by two people, whose job it is to ensure the bales roll clear and then to push them into groups around the field.
The tractor then comes round and the bales are hefted onto the pallet.
The bales are then deposited next to the wrapper and we stack them so that they’re easy to roll directly into the wrapping mechanism.
We each tend to have our own ‘position’ and job, so get into a good routine.
Occasionally the weather turns and we have to get the tarpaulin out……
Over the course of a couple of weeks, stacks of bales start appearing around the island, and there’s a big sigh of relief/celebration when the last bale has been wrapped and stacked!