No. I’d had chickens before and had rabbits before for meat and I’d helped occasionally with sheep but I really, you’re right, I didn’t have much experience. A great thing about the communal aspect of crofting is that hopefully you’ll be in a situation like I was, like I didn’t have a lot of experience, but there were people around me that did and the first cow that I actually bought, I bought with Wes, Maggie’s husband, because he ... We bought it from Muck and it was a half milk, half beef cow, the theory being that you have beef calves to sell and lots of milk. Worked a bit, you know. But Wes, he has milked cows in Ireland, hand milked you know? No problem at all but he didn’t want the hassle of doing it every day. I didn’t mind the hassle of doing it every day, but I had no idea what I was doing. So we bought it between us and it worked really well. And, you know, she was an old beast of a cow and she kept doing everything possible but Wes could milk her really well, and I never really got that great at it! (laughs) But I did get there. And just ... I don’t think having something like a cow is something that I’d have gone into completely on my own but in the environment you are and the community you’ve got around you ... And now we’ve got ... well we’ve actually got seven. We’ve got two of a woman’s along the road who’s away for a couple of years. We’re looking after them until she decides what she’s going to do, so yeah, we’ve got cows, we’ve got chickens, ducks ... we’ve had pigs before. You know, that sort of thing. None of the crofters on Eigg have got sheep apart from one. One guy’s got half a dozen Shetland sheep and it’s just an old ... not really an old tradition, but the story I heard anyway was, let’s say a hundred years ago, the crofters wanted a larger area of common grazing from the estate and the estate, at that time, was accusing the crofters of stealing their sheep. So the agreement was that the crofters on Eigg wouldn’t have sheep apart from you were allowed two sheep for your own consumption, which had to be tethered like goats, and that meant the estate gave up this land for the common grazing. And, in fact, up until very recently while more of the old people were still around, they were very much against crofters getting sheep still on Eigg: “Oh no, you can’t do that.” This was like history but to them it was part of the whole thing and they were very much against it. Now ... I mean Peggy’s probably the oldest person on Eigg who can remember ... well Katie and Peggy, who can remember how the crofting used to be and both of them have said to the youngsters: “Do what you want to do!” Well, they call me a youngster but ... “If you want to get sheep, get sheep.” And we have talked about it and eventually I suppose it will happen but ...

  • Neil Robertson
Thursday 4th February 2010