I thought i’d already posted the brooder building photos, but guess not. Remember, the key to keeping it cheap, is to raid the rubbish pile to build something. But one must also guard against the cost of labour involved in ‘making it work.’
I thought i’d already posted the brooder building photos, but guess not. Remember, the key to keeping it cheap, is to raid the rubbish pile to build something. But one must also guard against the cost of labour involved in ‘making it work.’
This was the first question posed to me after my speaking engagement with Farm Service Agency personnel in Kansas City on July 15. It was after the fact because it wasn’t pertinent to my purpose of being there and we had a limited time frame. Too bad on that, great group of people who truly seemed interested in the ‘boots on the ground’ aspect of farming and ranching.
Now, if you raise sheep and it is not difficult for you, then that is great. But my take on it is that they are far too time-consuming for my lifestyle choices and from a cost effective viewpoint. So bear with me. You can tell your story in your blog and I would like to read it!
Taking the emotion out and just putting economics to it:
Right now, the biggest economic advantage that sheep have over cattle or even goats, is the initial purchase price. Consider that a young bred cow costs $2500-$2800 compared to 5 bred ewes costing a total of $900-$1125. A cow will produce one calf ready to sell in about 10 months. Five ewes can potentially have 10 lambs to sell, but realistically, more like 7 lambs and they can be sold at about 7 months. Now, bearing in mind, that calves and lambs can be sold earlier or later, weaned and unweaned, etc, etc. So, I will try to compare the two the most fairly as possible, but market and weather conditions can often dictate a different scenario.
A 10 month old steer calf with no creep and unweaned, on average comes off momma at about 450 lbs, a heifer maybe 400 lbs. The steer, at auction at today’s prices, will bring $280/cwt or $1260 per head. The heifer about $1008 per head. Since the calf crop is typically 50% steers and 50% heifers, the average will be $1134.
A 50 lb lamb will bring about $1.75/lb and there is no differentiation between wethers and ewes. The average then would be $87.50/head. Better lambs should weigh 80 lbs at seven months, resulting in $980 total – but most likely, not all seven head will do that well.
Seven lambs to sell per year – $612.50-$980
One calf to sell per year – $1134
Labor – significantly more with sheep. They need nearly daily inspection since they tend towards getting caught in brush, fences, ditches, whatever, and need extracting. If not found at least in 24 hours, they will die. Even grown ewes can fall prey, resulting in not only the death of the ewe, but her unborn lambs or orphaning the ones she may already have. This means more work for you if you can figure out which ones are hers. You get to be mom for however long you keep them, including feeding them multiple times per day. The best investment for that task for me is a lamb milk bar with seven nipples.
Infrastructure (fence, water) – unless you are willing to install permanent type woven wire paddock fencing (very expensive), then the next choice is flexible fencing with electrified netting. Cost effective to purchase, but time consuming.
Consider: 100 ewes and their lambs will consume about 3% of their body weight (similar to cows), so assuming ewes weighing 180 lbs times 3% equals about 6 lbs of grass per day or 600 for the entire flock. If your pasture offers 200 lbs of forage per inch of growth and you have 7 inches of growth and want to leave a 3 inch residual (to facilitate regrowth), then there is 4 inches times 200 lbs or 800 lbs forage on offer. Say you only want to move them every three days, then they should have at least 3 acres. To fence 3 acres in a square takes 1450 feet. Electric nettings are 164 feet long, so you are moving 9 nettings every three days. Don’t be fooled by the advertising that touts that it only takes 10 minutes per net. No way. I’m pretty darn fast at it now, but by the time, you pull the posts, fanfold them, roll them up, tie them, walk to the next location (or load them all up and drive them to the new location), unload (but first you have to untangle them from each other if you stacked them), walk them back out, then step them into the ground (if it’s not frozen or the ground isn’t hard that is). So, for each netting, taken down and reinstalled, you’ve logged at least 656 feet, not counting if you’ve had to pack it a long distance before setting up again. I’m going to give a general 20 minutes per net. This doesn’t really allow much for when you have to hammer the feet of the posts into the ground or unhooking from snags, removing sticks, and just general untangling.
Nine nets times 20 minutes is 3 hours! that’s every three days for only 100 sheep! Compare the equivalent of cows and calves moving everything three days – about 30 minutes and that’s if you have to find baby calves that were left behind. The difference becomes even more significant when one considers that i can shift 250 cows and calves in maybe 45 minutes. These times are taking into consideration strip grazing in winter and taking out hay as well as the easier moves in the spring, summer, and fall. However, ramping up the number of sheep would incur significantly more netting and thus considerable more time. A single strand semi-permanent hi-tensile electrified wire is cheap and easy to install and wiill easily contain cattle and once the fencing is installed, it requires very little time to shift mobs of 1000 or more! Interior paddock division fencing that will actually contain sheep is definitely doable, but is considerably more expensive in materials and labor to install and maintain.
So to compare on a larger scale with 5 ewes equalling 1 cow.
250 cows with 80% calf crop – $226,800 income per year. Shifting every three days or 122 times per year at 45 minutes each for a total of 91.5 hours per year.
1250 sheep with 140% lamb crop – $183,750 (60 lbs times $1.75/lb). Shifting every three days or 122 times per year (this is used for comparison only – realistically, winter time will require set stocking and unrolling hay. The netting spikes cannot be pushed into and pulled out of frozen ground). If 100 ewes needed three acres, then 1250 need 38 acres. Perimeter at 5146 ft divided by 164 ft is 32 nets times 20 minutes per net equals 10.7 hours per move times 122 shifts. Hours spent annual moving fence and/or taking out hay is 1305 hours.
If you have better forage and soil health, paddock sizes could be much smaller, thereby reducing the amount of acreage needed for each shift which would subsequently require less netting.
Sheep in north Missouri must have good fences and excellent guard animals to keep them alive. Coyotes, foxes, eagles, dogs, etc nab them with abandon to feed their young. Sheep also have accidents – but so do cattle – but sheep seem to have a better knack for it.
The death of a sheep is a far less loss of investment than a calf or cow.
Sheep and cattle facilities are different, but if planned in advance there is a good opportunity to use the same corrals.
Some people do get along without netting. From visiting with them, they raise hair sheep and/or use aluminum electric wire which delivers a more powerful shock than hi-tensile. Wool sheep often cannot feel the shock at all, especially when in full wool.
Wool sheep are not ideal for range grazing since the wool clip can be practically ruint if they find a patch of cockleburrs or other clinging seeds.
Though i did not consider it in my time allotment, sheep, ideally, need checking everyday – that fence can be blown over or something chase the sheep into the fence and they get caught up or they flatten it. Rain and flood can knock it over, too. Animals can be caught up in it that need rescuing or they die and the rest will all get out and scatter! If you have 1000 acres and 2 sheep, in five minutes they’ll be at the far corners and separated. When the Scriptures talk about sheep going astray – there is the proof of it!
In my case, i have a 35 minute drive to my farm. Sheep are not practical at all if they are so far away that they cannot be checked on easily. With cattle, unless during calving season or unseasonably hot or cold weather, they don’t need attention anymore than once every three days or so. This greatly reduces my time spent on the road.
Sheep can be used to better clear brush and prepare pastures for renovation and improvement as long as their grazing is strictly controlled. Sheep get out a lot! Perhaps not out of the perimeter fence, but they, like all livestock, must stay within their alloted grazing or they’ll destroy a pasture. If you have beautiful, level pastures with no ditches, draws, dips, or washouts, yet shade in nearly all paddocks (sheep sunburn and get very hot in the summer), you may have an ideal situation for raising sheep.
The biggest advantage sheep have over cattle at least in today’s marketplace is the initial investment. And it is substantial. Taking our above example:
250 bred cow purchase@ $2500 is $625,000 (Requires 6 bulls for breeding – $5000 each or $30,000)
1250 bred ewes purchase $281,250 (Requires 25 rams for breeding – $500 each or $12,500)
However, nets cost $120 each and used regularly MIGHT last 2 years. And as shown the labor is much greater.
So there are advantages and disadvantages. To me, the market dictates raising cattle, because of the reduced cost of infrastructure and reduced labor. However, if one had 1250 ewes, in my opinion, the infrasture needs to be in place to eliminate the labor of netting. This is lots of posts and woven wire.
So, this all begs the question, ‘why did i purchase sheep in the first place?’ To be sure, my plan was that the sheep would basically live with and graze with the cattle and shift with them. However, this never came about since they would not be contained by the 3 wire hi-tensile electrified fencing I installed for this purpose. They learnt to jump through the two top wires, so that even though the wires were ‘hot’ the sheep were not shocked since they weren’t touching the ground as they jumped through. I don’t know if they learnt this by accident or watched the dogs do it. Plus any dip in the ground would provide a large hole for them to duck under. It honestly, is impossible, from a practical standpoint to make them stay within the enclosure. So, until i started containing them with the electric netting, they became regular fodder for predators despite guard dogs simply because they scatter like, –well, sheep. From then on, i have two groups of animals to shift, with the sheep requiring far too much time for what they were worth.
So, the sheep will be sold over the next couple of months to free up time for family matters, to improve my sanity, and give my poor old bones a needed rest.
There are other major expenses involved to have such a scheme. Not the least of which is needing about 1000 acres, which at current prices in north central Missouri is about $2800 to $3400 per acre. (IF you can find it for sale) Some people are very fortunate to find pasture to rent, but consider whether or not you’d want to make $150 per acre in infrastructure on someone else’s property. You’d need a lifetime lease to justify that and they can still sell the land and you’d be out. Plus the owner may not be agreeable to crisscrossing his or her property with fencing. Remember, too, the animals have health issues including treating for disease (albeit very seldom), vaccinations, castrating, as well as marketing and trucking expenses.
Yesterday, I found two ewes and a young lamb stuck in the muddy ditch. Of course, I had not worn my mud boots, so my short work shoes would suffice, though I was up to my shins in sticky clay. They were a bit of a challenge to remove leg by leg out of the muck, but with their cooperation and effort, I made fairly short work of it.
Today, I drove up with the specific purpose of walking the ditches in case more had found themselves engulfed in mud, but none were thankfully. However, the storm moved in and i was completely soaked from the thunderstorm. Additionally, I counted seven live newborn lambs as well as two ewes were beginning to go into labor.
We have missed the worst of these passing storms, however, and for that we are grateful.
After morning chores at home, including feeding and penning the dogs, letting out and feeding the chooks, feeding all five orphan lambs and feeding and watering the two ewe with lambs which are in the barn, Dallas and i drove up to the farm to see what was happening. Right off, I noticed a ewe having lambing difficulty, or so it seemed. We gave her a bit more time before bothering her by enticing the mob of sheep into the corral.
The weather finally gave us a decent time to sort off the rams, so we did that, which went well. Then we coaxed the 5 ewes with lambs out of the pasture (the ones Dallas had shut in a small area the night before) and gently and patiently walked them 1/4 mile down the road and across a wooden bridge to the corral, where all the other ewes and lambs had been gathered. They hesitated at the bridge and of course, with baby lambs, it’s a slow process as the mommas struggle to keep track of their babies. But all in all, it went very smoothly.
Then I headed over to check on that lambing ewe and the news was tragic. As I reached inside, a really nasty smell eminated – yeah, the lambs were dead and had been for quite some time since all I could pull out was hooves, skin and body parts. She had never dilated, so there was no way these could be delivered. Hoping I could at least save the ewe, I continued trying to pull the dead lambs out, however, she shortly went into shock and died.
Now to head home to hook onto the little trailer, muster the yearling ewes from the Lamme farm, load and haul them out to the older sheep. Gathering them out of the pasture and loading also went very smoothly. We unloaded them, let all the other ewes and lambs out of the corral and into the pasture. By this time, I’d decided to take the unloving ewe home, along with her lambs figuring I could work with them better. So we loaded her and the two lambs in the front section and the three rams behind and off we went.
Since my hands and clothes were completely nasty, Dallas dropped me off to shower before I fixed lunch while he unloaded the rams at the Lamme Farm. He brought the ewe and lambs back and parked the trailer in the shade. I’ll deal with them later.
I went back up to check ewes one more time before dark and, unfortunately had to bring in three more abandoned lambs. What is going on!?
Wow, it is amazing how warm weather can energise a person into working and really enjoying it!
Monday morning started off a bit rough though since it had been quite cold the night before and my early morning check of the lambing situation found 5 dead (cold) but 7 thriving. At this point, I’m beginning to think there is a vast difference in mothering ability of these ewes. However, all get a pass until the weather stays warm. With warmer weather this afternoon, the ground is thawing on top, so it’s very slick to have a pickup out in the pasture, so after nearly getting stuck in an area I had pulled into to load some gates, I decided to drop them off at their new location just inside the gate and later I would drag them down to the water tank with my Gator. Additionally, in the afternoon, Dallas and I moved the cows and calves a half mile to fresh pasture. A little bit of green showing, but mostly they are picking at old stockpile which will serve them fine as long as the weather is not stressful.
Apparently, through the excitement of moving the cows, the guard dogs flattened the electrified netting that held in the sheep and unfortunately, once we returned, all but 5 nursing ewes had escaped. That’s the way it goes, of course, since I was planning to move them down the road the next day up to the corral. However, too late for that, so we spent the next two hours pushing the ewes more than quarter mile through two paddocks and across a ditch with deep running water. I was so proud of them actually ploughing through that water! Sheep can really be stubborn about getting their feet wet. I was calling the sheep to follow and Dallas was pushing and so the little lambs that couldn’t cross, he grabbed and threw them across to their mums.
Once over the ditch and through the gate, the key was to give them access to the hay pile so they would be occupied while iIset up seven nettings quickly before they escaped the area. Meanwhile, Dallas went back around to shut the gates behind the cattle (two had come back because they forgot to take their calves with them!!! aaargh!), so all were together, then he continued on through to Cord Road to drive all the way around the square mile by gravel road. I then sent him down to gather the 5 ewes plus lambs into the corner by Morris Chapel cemetery and install a netting around behind them. That way they would be safe until we could move them next morning to be with the rest of the flock. It was pretty much dark by this time.
We had noticed hours earlier a ewe having difficulty with giving birth, so when Dallas came back, we walked through the flock with the torch and found her. I walked her over to the hay bales, grabbed her hind leg while she was distracted by eating and flipped her over. The first lamb was fairly easy to pull out, so it was a mystery why she was having trouble. So, i reached inside her and way, deep inside was another lamb. It came out easily, too, so not sure why she was having trouble. Nevertheless, I laid them around to her head, but she would have nothing to do with them; not a good sign. I let her up and she just walked away, lambs baaing and wet. Stupid ewe. Dallas and I tried to push her back towards the lambs, but she would have nothing of it, so we caught her and walked/dragged her to the corral. I packed the two lambs up to her and we tried for half an hour to get those lambs to nurse, but the ewe didn’t want them and they didn’t want her.
Both Dallas and I were tired and hungry by now (about 9:30pm), so we headed home and 35 minutes later we were back and fixing a light supper. While it was warming, I went out and fed my five bottle lambs, back in for supper, then, taking a big box, I drove back up to see if a miraculous love fest was happening. Nope, not at all. I left her shut in the corral, grabbed the lambs and brought them home for feeding. At midnight I finally got a shower and headed to bed.
They were very unhappy lambs and cried nearly all night in the basement. But by morning after multiple feedings, they were strong.
This afternoon is forecasted to be a return to almost normal weather. Everyone here is looking forward to that to be sure, especially given that this is the second winter in a row of being exceptionally long and cold. Like last year, there has been little opportunity to do outside work, so we’ll all be in a rush to catch up once the weather cooperates.
My difficulties, like last year’s, have been pretty much self-induced. From not castrating the ram lambs in a timely fashion (so I have lambs being born now in this bitter weather) to having purchased fall-calving cows which are STILL calving. Had four calves born just this week! Thankfully, the calves have come without trouble and are doing well. The lambs, however, simply do not have enough body mass to survive the cold – more specifically, the wind and cold – so I’ve brought them indoors for nursing. It is unlikely that i’ll be able to get their mothers to take them back after being bottle fed for 3 days, but I will try this afternoon.
I also did not allow for enough stockpile grazing. When winters were more normal, it took about an acre of good stockpile per cow to get through the winter. However, winters have become more severe so it not only takes more food for the cows (because it’s extra cold and damp), but also the stockpile deteriorates months before new grass comes on in the spring. This year’s stopgap was to purchase and have delivered 150 additional bales of hay to carry me through another long and difficult winter.
It’s very difficult, i suspect, for anyone in the US to believe in global warming, but certainly there does seem to be some climate change and either I’m going to have to plan better or I need to move to a warmer climate. Even if this is a cyclical pattern (and i suspect it is), moving still sounds like an attractive plan.
Interestingly, we have begun considering the option of purchasing most or all of our hay needs and selling off our hay making equipment. Purchasing hay and unrolling it for feeding, not only feeds the cows, but adds considerable nutrient and fertilizer to the soil. We may also use hay feeding as a way to expand the cow herd without expanding our land base. Land has become far too expensive to buy now because of the government enhanced commodity support programmes and vast amounts of pasture land have been ploughed up for row cropping.
Additionally, the fences and trees have been pushed out to make more acres to plough, so it’s unlikely to return to pasture anytime in my lifetime. However, maybe it’s best not to purchase more land as my husband and I both approach retirement ages. We actually may not retire because we enjoy what we do, but we may cut back and additional land means additional expense and management. If we expand using purchased hay, we can cut back anytime. If we were to sell our land, it would be ploughed immediately by the new owners.
The Shetland Islands are a subarctic archipelago comprised of some 100 islands, of which only 16 are inhabited. Sumburgh, at the very south tip has the main airport, and Lerwick, with the safe harbour and is the seat of Shetland Constituency of the Scottish Parliament, are both located on what is known as the Mainland. The Mainland is 373 square miles, whilst the entire Shetland Islands is 567 square miles. Animals associated with the Shetland Islands are the Shetland pony, Shetland sheep (for which I have a fondness since Jessica raised Shetland sheep for about six years before going off to uni), Shetland Sheep Dog, as well as pigs, geese, ducks, and chickens all having been naturally or purposefully selected for thousands of years to thrive in this rugged environment. Norse and Scottish heritage blend seamlessly here and evidences of both are found in music, prose, and signage. Fiddle playing is most associated with traditional Shetland music. The average high in winter will be 45 and lows around 34F, whilst summers may top out about 62F and lows around 50. Summer days are almost perpetual day, while the winter days are short indeed. The wind blows about 12 miles per hour everyday with usually a bit of showers. Average annual precipitation is 39 inches.
St, Ninian’s Isle is connected to the main Shetland Island by a tombolo, which is a narrow sand or gravel bar connecting two islands. St. Ninian’s is named after a small chapel which was discovered on the island, but more famously, the location at which a 16-year-old schoolboy discovered treasure which professional archaelogists had overlooked for years! A local farmer grazes his Shetland sheep on the island. Sadly, the peace is disturbed by a couple of four wheelers racing up and down the tombolo.
Driving a stick shift on the ‘wrong’ side of the road, on the ‘wrong’ side of the car on these lovely 2 lane paved roads (think oil money) wasn’t quite as daunting as expected, although driving in the city would be another thing altogether. Although most of the roads are single paved tracks, there are several passing points alongside to allow approaching traffic to press by. Keep to the left!
Our first full day (Sunday) started with a quick trip to one of the finest, albeit small, beaches in the Shetland Islands and it’s right here in Levenwick! Too cold for a dip and of course we were the only ones walking the sandy beach, but no doubt in warmer weather, this would be a popular spot to play in the quiet water.
As we made our way up from the beach, I spotted a family gathered about some sheep in a holding yard. I pulled over quickly and went to meet them. They kindly answered my questions about sheep production in Shetland Islands. We really had a good chat for about an hour! They were expecting the truck soon to load the lambs to ship to Aberdeen for finishing. Farming is fraught with the same obstacles as American farmers. I tried asking a few sheep farmers what grazing land sold for but they didn’t know! It simply is not for sale. A small lot for building a home is about £17,000 or $27,780. Not really out of line for a lot with stunning views of the North Sea!
Later. in the early afternoon, we made our way to Sandsayre Pier at Sandwick to meet our Mousa Boat ride to Mousa Island at which we hiked around enjoying the scenery and wildlife, as well as the highlight, the Broch of Mousa. This is the best preserved broch in all the world. Brochs are unique to Scotland and it is still unclear as to the purpose. It’s only about a mile across from the main island, but today it was cloudy, hazy, windy, and quite cool. However, we all had layered up well, so we were not uncomfortable. We enjoyed a chat with a few people in a group of Aussies from Sydney who were our boat mates.
Later tonight, I watched Downton Abbey, months before my American friends are able. Unfortunately, I’ll only see 3 or 4 episodes before we head back to the States which means waiting until late January – early February before watching the last of the season!
Next day, after a good rest, we headed south towards Sumburgh Head. The drive down the main road was stunning as usual and, as we kept hearing, the weather is unusually nice for this time of year. Shortly before arriving at Jarlshof, part of our drive included passing across the end of the Sumburgh Airport runway. Definitely a first for me!
‘Jarlshof; is a made up word for an area near the southern coast of the main Shetland Island which has been excavated to reveal several thousands of years of generations. Very interesting for us history buffs.
After a good climb up to Sumburgh Head and back down, we discovered Spiggie’s Bar restaurant located inside the Spiggie Hotel and Lodges at which, we not only had a scrumptious late lunch, but discovered that the young lady who rang up our bill had spent three months in RIchmond, Missouri as an exchange student way back in 1988! What a small world we live in! We had a fun visit and I think she enjoyed reminiscing about her time spent in the US. The Spiggie restaurant uses fresh caught fish and hand cut fries along with local sourced veggies for the salads. Beef and lamb are also from locally raised sources.
A great place to walk off some of that huge meal was at the Shetland Crofthouse Museum in Dunrossness. This venue is another must do if you are ever in the Shetland Islands. Free admission, though donations are accepted, this well maintained croft house, byre, shed, and water mill complete with stack of peat blocks stacked outside will make you truly appreciate our level of creature comforts.
Except for stopping in at a local supermarket for evening snacks on the drive back to Melstadr in Levenwick, the croft house was our final venue for the day.
Tuesday is our last full day and a special stop for me was to find something lovely for Jessica which i would find at Shetland Jewellery in Weisdale. However, first we drove up and over to Scalloway to tour the Scalloway castle and Scalloway Museum located next to one another with easy access and carpark. Incredibly! these venues didn’t open until 11am, so we walked down the main street and found the ‘places of interest,’ then with another half hour before opening, we opted to go sightseeing. We headed up and around to the islands of East and West Burra which are accessed via Trondra and all connected by single lane bridges which we could drive over and wound our way to nearly the end of the islands. Along the way, we pulled over for this picturesque landscape begging to be photographed. Still photos sure don’t capture the breeze with bite, the warm sunshine, or the sound of crashing waves.
As we came back towards Scalloway, we pulled in at a sign which advertised a working farm – Burland Croft Trail. However, once we arrived, the lady landowner came over and said they really weren’t taking visitors anymore, the season was over. Once i told her we were sheep and cattle farmers from Missouri and completely understood when she explained that they were busy with farm chores, she wouldn’t have it any other way than for us to take their tour on our own. So we did, they have a lovely farm touching the Burland Sea Shore and across from the foundation of an ancient broch. Afterwards, even her husband came over and we had a great chat about farming and all the challenges. She apologised again for not being very good hosts as they were in the midst of sorting through and selecting replacement ewe lambs. I assured her there was no reason for apology except from us for interrupting their work, but that we were mighty appreciative of the visit. I think they enjoyed the exchange of ideas and the encouragement we received from one another. Farming is often a thankless job and one with continual challenges. We all agreed that if we wanted to be financially rich, we wouldn’t be farming. But as she pointed out, there are many other ways to be rich – and so right she is! We were meant to stop in here and meet Tommy and Mary Isbister. This is a pasture walk – so wear appropriate footwear and enjoy Burland Croft Trail – but it would be better for all to stop in during their regular tourist season!
Wednesday is our final day in Shetland. Dallas and I walked to the local convenience store in Levenwick and I had only enough pounds to buy a couple Mars bars. We ate a bit of one and saved some for Nathan who was cleaning up the room a bit. Now with dishes done, towels piled up in the bathroom, luggage loaded, we headed out, only to get to the end of the drive and find road work being done. However, the workmen finished in about 10 minutes. We arrived plenty early in Lerwick to drop off the rental car, pick up our Northlink Ferry boarding passes, store our luggage, then off to town to find somewhere to get some cash which I would need to pay the taxi driver who would take us to our hotel in Orkney at 10:30 pm! We did exchange some at the Lerwick Post Office on Commercial Street, then we spent an hour in the Shetland Museum. It was time to head back to the docks and board. Our ferry left spot on time at 5:30 pm with an early arrival time expected into Kirkwall, Orkney Islands of 10:30 rather than the 11:00 pm stated time. By the time our ship was moving past Sumbrough Head, it was dark enough that the lighthouse was already announcing the danger of its location. Soon the Shetland Islands slipped out of sight and into our memories.