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Jo Mackenzie: Happy returns amid festive preparations down on farm

Jo's husband Nick has been busy bringing 12 Ayrshire heifers back to the farm.
Jo's husband Nick has been busy bringing 12 Ayrshire heifers back to the farm.

After the excitement of Halloween, it’s straight into birthday season here at Rootfield. Two months of friends and family birthdays, including my beloved gran’s, who will be 93 next month and despite three mild strokes and a recent heart attack, still determinedly lives on her own in Blairgowrie.

I greatly admire my gran’s independent spirit but would be so much happier if she agreed to move north, especially during these days of social isolation.

It seems though, to me anyway, that the longer lockdown goes on the more the older generation are railing against Covid restrictions, which I empathise with.

However, we would rather our loved ones be here for another potentially 20 years, in the case of our parents, and stick with it for just a bit longer – for their own sakes as well as those of their children and grandchildren.

To this end, by the time you read this we will have celebrated a decade of our darling first born with a staggered, socially distanced cake and coffee afternoon with all three sets of grandparents in our spruced up carport “lounge”.

Fortunately, I have a supply of decorating paraphernalia from attending local shows with the ice cream stall so have carpeted half the carport with artificial grass, and hung up some boxwood hearts and festoon lights above our garden benches.

The issue, as for everyone lucky enough to have an outside space, is making it cosy. Nick has parked two round bales at the entrance to provide shelter and I have fleecy blankets to hand, but as I write we have yet to install a safe heating solution.

A farmer through and through, Nick suggested the diesel-powered heater that he formerly used to defrost the milking parlour (pre-robots), but our trial run proved overpowering in both fumes and noise.

We will probably invest in a fire pit.

Meanwhile on the farm, my father-in-law’s sheep have arrived to overwinter and the ongoing mild spell means Nick still has dry cows outside in the fields, helping keep down feed, bedding and labour costs.

He also recently brought back 12 Ayrshire heifers from the Essich sheep holding, where the youngstock is reared, to be artificially inseminated with sexed semen.

This costs more but will eliminate the possibility of a male calf in the herd and Nick is keen to develop the breeding of these cows while they are at their fittest and most fertile.

In the ice cream kitchen Rosie, Hannah and Alan are beginning to make festive flavours for trade clients as well as the honesty shed including stollen, Baileys and sticky toffee pudding. They are also gearing up for ice cream cake orders.

Back inside the farmhouse I have been tackling legislation and safety assessments required prior to selling traditionally handcrafted cold process soaps I’ve been developing for over a year now.

My plan was to sell the botanical soaps via the new vending machine in the run-up to Christmas but the vending machine and honesty shop look set to be behind schedule.

I still hope to have the soaps for sale in our existing on-farm shed next month along with some beautiful Christmas decorations handmade by local crafters using the appropriately festive “Goldenbroom” fabric.

Designed by Mulbuie Primary pupils several years ago, the unique Goldenbroom tartan reflects the colours of the wild gorse, rich red soil and green fields found in the countryside surrounding the school. All sales of the decorations will go directly to school funds.

If ever there was a time to support local when you’re Christmas shopping, this is the year.

  • Jo lives at Rootfield Farm in the Black Isle with Nick, daughters Daisy and Mollie and 120 dairy cows.

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