THERE comes a point in many walks of life where you wonder why you do it. Some activities generate that question more regularly than others, and my experience so far suggests that crofting is one of those activities where it crops up a lot.

Sheep are the bane of most ­crofters’ lives. They cause endless expense and annoyance, they are the root cause of many a back problem, and if there is a time and a place which would be the most ­awkward to choose, you can be sure that that is when and where they will breathe their last.

Wedged in the deepest ditch at the ­wettest end of the croft? Tick. Choked to death on a bramble on a steep slope? Tick.

Stuck in the same fence they have been ­released from three times previously? Tick.

When I stepped on the boat in ­November to go away, the wedders promptly broke through a fence and took up residence in someone’s garden and my good Beltex tup keeled over. I’d barely reached Oban.

So why do we do it? An excellent ­question.

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The last time I asked myself that was the afternoon I found myself face down in a muddy pen having had the legs taken out from under me by a very angry sheep. I didn’t see him coming, but I certainly felt him arrive. Not long afterwards, he was sent on his holidays to Barra and came back nicely boxed. If only more problems were so easily remedied.

I do it because I can’t not do it. ­Something compels me.

My introduction to crofting was as a child. I remember watching my Tiree Gran don a pair of wellies, put a mac over her blue housecoat and apply a rainmate in preparation for going to “check the beasts”. I recall watching sheep being shorn in the fank by the house and being fascinated. I watched the kids who lived in Tiree helping with animals at the Show and the sale with envy – I wanted to be in that ring too. But home at that time was Edinburgh, and life – in the way it does – marched on in a different direction.

Permanently moving to Tiree in 2013 – back home to the family house and the croft, and everything that they ­symbolised – I quickly discovered that the land was more important to me than I could ever have imagined. As a kid, it had symbolised freedom and adventure. As an adult, it was something that rooted me in a way I had never been before. I finally belonged somewhere, and the desire to work the ground as my ancestors did before me was too strong to ignore.

I started with Hebridean sheep. I picked them partly because they were going free … but also because they are very low-­maintenance sheep. They graze ­conservatively, they have pretty solid ­immune systems, they don’t require much in the way of additional feeding and frankly the less you have to do with them, the happier they are.

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They are also small and light. At five feet and not a lot, that is an important ­factor for me to consider. I can turn a Hebridean sheep over fairly easily. I tried it with a very large Texel ewe once, and suffice it to say, I didn’t come out on top.

Working with land and animals is ­immensely humbling. You are in a ­constant battle with the elements, usually after work or before work. Often in the dark. When you sell animals you go home with a cheque which might cover your feeding costs and give you some profit, but rarely covers the time you put in, and you never know when your feet might be taken out from under you – literally or figuratively.

The battles you fight are not just with wayward sheep, paperwork, and bale-wrap in 60-mile-per-hour winds – there’s plenty else to add to the struggle.

That neatly boxed sheep from earlier? Getting him boxed wasn’t quite as easy as I suggested.

Every year I keep a few sheep for ­mutton. I get two nice fleeces off them to turn into yarn and tweed, and then at 30 months, I sell them as mutton boxes. It’s been a long time since Tiree had its own slaughter facilities, so to have them ­processed, they have to leave the island.

You can go to Mull with your ­animals – but that’s two boats away and the ­slaughterhouse is available infrequently. Barra is the option I use, but the ­connecting boat only runs once a week in the summer and Barra doesn’t have a vet.

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Last year, it took four attempts to get the animals away. The weather was too bad to sail two weeks in a row and the vet wasn’t due in Barra for another two weeks. In previous years, it was getting the meat back that proved challenging.

The central belt is an option, but you need time to do that – and deal with the logistics. If you are selling into a small market, it needs to be profitable. And all of this assumes that there is space on a boat when you need it for a vehicle and a trailer. Trying to get people moved at short notice in the summer is a nightmare – moving animals at short notice then is nothing short of hellish.

Islands aren’t alone in this. Local ­abattoirs the country over are closing. We’re encouraged to eat local, to reduce food miles and reduce carbon in the quest for net zero, but our small producers at the most regenerative end of the farming spectrum are unable to access the services which would enable exactly that.

Mobile abattoirs have been discussed endlessly but we have yet to see any ­serious move in that direction. Whilst most animals would still be sold to store, the opportunity to offer quality local meat is something we should be supported to develop right across rural Scotland.

Similar contradictions are at play when it comes to the land itself. We are blessed with huge biodiversity on the west coast – and well-managed croft land has rich pickings for those with an interest in flora and fauna.

Thus, crofters are encouraged to take part in environmental schemes. In return for some financial ­recompense, we jump through any number of hoops in the name of bees and butterflies and ­corncakes – often inconveniencing ­ourselves in the process.

The National: Pens of Hebridean sheep were on display at the show.

If I have learned anything from my journey into crofting, it’s that ­flexibility, co-operation, and the twin abilities to ­innovate and make do and mend are ­absolutely key to success. Living in an ­island context demands it even more.

If only that spirit of co-operation and flexibility extended a few rungs higher on the ladder.

Cutting a week earlier than allowed on account of the weather might mean a ­better quality of silage, reducing ­imported feed required in the winter, but if you are in a scheme, you would get fined. So we don’t.

I reckon two weeks more of sheep on a particular bit of ground would have ­dramatically reduced the ragwort ­problem I had this year. But the ground had to be closed off. So I might need to spray the weed instead – which defeats multiple objects.

The same rules are applied across the board regardless of the local growing patterns or knowledge. I have learned ­everything I know thanks to the patience and generosity of those around me who know far more than I do. They continue to listen and console and answer my ­endless questions without so much as a sigh. They don’t have to give up their time, but they do – because they care. Both for me and for the future of the land.

We’re not short of passion and drive in our crofting communities, but until the policies we’re fenced in by are as ­flexible and innovative as their subjects, and ­until the boots on the ground become the ­stakeholders, we are robbing ourselves of the very resource we so desperately need if we’re going to need to make a ­difference – local knowledge.