Farming in the Small Isles is based round the production of “Store Cattle and Lambs”, and also Venison production from Rum. Store animals are lambs and weaned calves, which have been reared on one of the farms or crofts in the Small Isles, and then are sold at market, either to dealers or other farmers. The animals are then finished on mainland farms. In the main the Small Isle cows calve in the Spring, and are weaned and sold in September and October, going to market in DIngwall and Fort William. Cows are usually cross bred, mainly xAngus, xLiung, xHighland. Thre are also purebred Highland herds on Canna and Rum. Bulls tend to be Continental for store cattle (Limousin and Simmental) and traditional (Galloway, Highland, Angus or Luing) for the breeding of herd replacements.
Beef farming is a highly significant agricultural sector in Scotland, it accounts for about a quarter of the total value of agricultural gross output. There are over 500,000 breeding beef cows and heifers in Scotland. Beef cattle farming takes place on over 9,500 holdings. Some beef farms have their own breeding cows and produce calves each year, which may then be sold as ‘stores’ at around six to twelve months. The store system tends to be low input low output, relying on a silage based ration with supplementary protein cake in the winter, with the cows being outwintered on the hill. Summer grazing takes place on the hill and inbye land.
The store system tends to be low input low output, relying on a silage based ration with supplementary protein cake in the winter, with the cows being outwintered on the hill. Summer grazing takes place on the hill and inbye land.
Managing a Hill Farm on Eigg
The Sandamhor hill land parcel area runs to 832 hectares. The hill has been traditionally farmed with North Country Cheviot sheep and Angus and Luing cross suckler cows. The hill held 400 breeding ewes, and up to 30 Suckler Cows. The hill ranges on the MacAulay Land Classification System from 5.3 through to 6.3. There are a number of Historic and archaeological features on the hill, including a bronze age hut circle and an iron age fort. The hill includes the ruins of Upper and Lower Gruilin Townships, which were cleared in 1851.
Our initial Moorland Management Plan is drawn up to take place for five years from 2012 through to 2017 years. This plan is expected to have the hill in a beneficial state after that period. It is expected that the moorland management will take up to sixty days per year of management time.
The Moorland can be divided into two distinct regions, Upland Hill and Low Ground. Much of the ground of The Sandamhor Hill lies within the An Sgurr and Glen Charadail SSSI, which is notified for its important maritime cliff, scrub and upland dwarf shrub heath. The upland part of the SSSI is dominated by heather, though the influence of the basalt permits the widespread occurrence of species requiring more base-rich conditions. Several of the species that occur here are typical of sub-alpine conditions and are unusual at low altitude. This sub-alpine dry heath habitat is in an unfavourable condition because of the presence of stands of dense bracken in the south of the SSSI and areas outwith the SSSI. The lower heath is a complex mix of coastal heath dry heath bog and grassland.
The hill is populated with a wide and varied species of insects. Principal butterfly species include Golden Ringed Dragonfly, Highland and Black Darter Dragonflies, Large Red and Common Blue Damselflies, Green Hairstreak, Dark Green and Pearl Bordered Fritillary, Small Heath, & Grayling while large numbers of Six-spot & the scarce Transparent Burnet Moths are also present. The black, white & yellow Magpie Moths can be abundant some years. Emperor Moth, Wood Tiger Moth, Grayling Butterfly are all present. Green Tiger beetles are also present.
Main Plant Species
The upland hill is a mosaic of dry heath, bog, wet flushes and heathy slopes running up to the bare rock of the Sgurr ridge. The main species on the upland hill are Bracken, Ling, Purple Heather, Cross Leaved Heath, Bog Asphodel, Sundew, Cotton grass, Deer Grass, Mat Grass, Purple Moor Grass and Green Ribbed Sedge. The lower ground consists mainly of Ling, Purple Heather, Butterwort, Sweet Vernal, Crested Dog’s tail, Viviparous Fescue and Carnation Sedge. Northern Marsh and Heath Spotted Orchids and Early Purple Orchids are also abundant from July onwards. Bog Cotton flowers in every boggy area from early June. Heath Spotted Orchids are also abundant from July onwards. The insectivorous Butterwort is also very widespread in the marshier areas, and later in the summer, the smaller and much scarcer relative, the Pale Butterwort can be seen. Wild Water Cress is abundant in the stream at Upper Gruilin.
The hill supports a wide variety of species, which include Raptors such as Golden Eagles, Peregrine Falcons, Buzzards Kestrels and Hen Harriers. Other species include Red Throated Diver, Short Eared Owl, Red Grouse, Meadow Pipit, Wheatear, Stonechat and Twite. Cuckoos are regularly seen and heard in the rocky slopes around the Sgurr.
 Reasonable Land but could be easily poached
 Rough Grazing dominated by plants with low grazing value
Canna Farm, which comprises 1126 Ha (Hectares), is made up mostly of hill ground with some good fertile land on the inbye (that’s the inner land away from the sea). The farm runs 350 North Country Cheviot and 200 Scottish Blackface ewes, which produce store lambs and breeding stock. All the ewes are bred pure, and in April farm managers Gerry and Murdo can be seen whizzing about the island on their quad bikes tending to the lambing ewes and their newborn. The lambs are sold in September and the best females are retained for replacement breeding stock.
The farm has a suckler herd of approximately 50 cows, mostly Shorthorn cross and Aberdeen Angus cross, plus a small herd of pedigree Highland cattle. These last, with their shaggy fringes, Viking-helmet-style horns, and teddy-bear-like calves, are favourites with tourists and visitors. The Highlanders are bred pure and the other breeds are crossed with an Aberdeen Angus or Luing bull producing store calves and breeding stock.
The cows spend their winters on the hill, and every day from December to March they get a supplementary feed of concentrates to help them through the cold weather. They have their calves from March to April and are brought down from the hill into the better inbye land where they will spend the summer with their young. Even the orphaned or rejected calves and lambs are cared for, which is why in spring Murdo and Gerry can sometimes be spotted feeding the baby animals milk (often from an old whisky bottle!), and schoolchildren from the neighbouring islands often come to Canna to see the animals and learn firsthand about farming.
There is a zero cropping policy in place, meaning nothing is harvested on the farm - this does away with the need for lots of expensive machinery, and saves on maintenance and labour costs. All feedstuff is bought in, which means the animals are guaranteed high quality food. The farm is run with conservation and wildlife in mind, and several areas are shut off from March to September to provide early cover and breeding areas for the rare Corncrake, which is an important annual visitor to Canna.