Friday, November 2, 2012

Over the Sea to Skye

I'll admit this is a bit off topic, but this set of BBC articles and videos shows Iain MacDonald swimming his cattle from the small island of Stenscholl, to the crofter's holding at Staffin, on the Isle of Skye, a distance of about 250 meters:

"Cattle complete annual Skye swim"
(link) (11 February 2011)

There is also a beautiful slide show "In pictures:  Skye crofter's swimming cattle"
(link) (22 October 2012)

and an article: "Skye crofter 'last' to swim his cattle between grazings"
(link) (11 February 2011)

This form of cattle gazing, driving cattle to an island, no doubt allowed crofters to gain access to new and somewhat protected pasturage for their cattle.


  1. Very curious but it is just 250m. much like crossing a wide river, like the Niger for example. For much larger crossings one would need to get them on a barge or something like that...

  2. Need to have a barge? I don't think so.

    Check this cow out on Lake Granada:

    She's heading out for a nice big grass salad.

  3. "Swimming the Cattle" in history:

    Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel, 1847-1868, John Jenkins:

    "But in 1866 I went again; this time with Captain Horton Haight of Farmington. The South Platte River at Julesburg where we crossed was three-fourths of a mile wide and we ferried our stuff over by taking the best wagon boxes and lashing four of them together. Thus they served as a ferry boat to carry our wagons and goods across the stream. This took about eight days, getting the train of about ninety wagons across the stream. Our train was extra large, having some boys from Dixie who belonged in another train. After we got our wagons and goods over, the captain called for volunteers to swim the cattle across, which consisted of about eight hundred head. Eight men volunteered. I being one of them. After about four hours of hard labor by the entire company, we got the cattle started through the water, and we eight volunteers followed them, swimming behind to keep them going. To do this we would take hold of the tails of the cattle that were behind and swim with them. When the ones we had hold of would swim into the bunch we would let them go and grab a fresh hold on another animal as it was unsafe for us to go into the bunch of swimming animals. Had we done so, we were in danger of drowning. We were in the water about six hours before we got them across."

  4. From the Post "River Grass" on the blog "Always trust your cape"

    "One time at the port we were tied next to small old cattle boat, and an old man was leaning on the railing of the overhead plank and he and I got to talking and he said he’d been working on the islands for over 50 years and back before cattle boats they just swam the cattle across, about a 1 or 2 mile swim, depending on the island. He said cattle are damn good swimmers, that they’d be from one shore to the other in an hour. They’d rarely drown, and when they did it was because one would swim up on the back of another and push him under, it getting rolled underneath the whole herd like a log under a boat. The trick was to have an old lead steer who the others would follow down into the water until the ground gave way and they were swimming, their heads up and eyes wide. The gauchos would get in canoes and keep the cattle swimming in a thin line so they were less apt to push the slower swimmers underneath."


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