The vet will arrive at 1.30 although it is Saturday. He mails that he has served at the abattoir all week: will come then as he lives closeby – I can see his house from the crags behind the farm. My new breeding females need testing to avoid disease, and two young bulls need castrating and dehorning. All animals in each group must come to the yard before separation. First, Billy and the girls from the Apron, the hollow pasture that lies like an old fashioned skirt across bony granite knees. My darling bull responds first from the bottom of the field bringing the others with him – a stott (last year’s castrato) bounces up confidently in front and -Demi Og – the new blond heifer carrying a calf and my herd’s future- follows third her horns held high and alert. Billy breaks into a canter and all respond even Flora with her breached birth muscle that nearly killed her champion calf early this year; even old Morag, ugly, white and growling,mother of champions,puts her arthritic hind leg to ground to propel her forwards.
Billy leads them through the barnyard and into the calving paddock where I have set a new surface to the hardstanding, a fresh bale in the feeder and feednuts in the metal trough, Turning to check the followers I find Demi-Og has taken a short cut and isolated herself in a corner gazing longingly at her contented companions. When I herd her towards the gate she sets off athletically in the opposite direction and then returns, gathers herself neatly to clear the roadside wire and trots across to the others. After just a month on the farm she is very much a part of the herd, the family, though unfamiliar with my gates..
Angus and the young cows Holly and Abby are waiting in the bottom paddock with two calves, spread along the fence not gathered round the feeder, indicating that their hay is low. Angus charges out of the opened gate. I gun the quad up the field and the young bull follows at a gallop, leading the way in that most glorious sight: a stampede of highlanders- coat-shaking, hoofstamping, headlong energy. At the yard, Angus and Billy start roaring and pawing the ground, but two fences remain between them.The bull calf is shed off and we ready to return down the hill.I pull on a round bale behind the quad using the bogey’s scorpions tail bar that slides over it and cants it on to the bogey as I move forward. Angus is waiting at the gate – I jerk forward to head him away from the opening – and the bale drops off the back, but Angus has started away from a potential confrontation with his father Billy and I retrieve the bale at leisure. I lead them back down, all except solitary Moira, rattling a bag of feed. Angus races alongside me this time, simple, friendly,direct showing signs of that ‘extra vertebra’ that marks my best bulls – he will partner me for many years to come; the rest follow at speed.Reversing the bale buggy towards the feeder I hear a despairing roar from the stott who had lingered at the yard confining his brother, and now pelts down to the paddock as if his life depended on it. I can tilt the feeder easily at his time of the year without needing to prise it from the frieze of frost that binds it down deeper in the winter.
Finally, after the vet has left, I bring Alice and her baby across to the calving paddock – Moira is there, Solitary, hornless she will be the first of the Uvie family met by the shy newcomer. Alice is glad of it extending her nose to greet the older cow – Moira stands off, arching her neck in a tense bow, her head low glaring sideways – it will do her good to dominate, and Alice will belong – little by little. The rain holds off, the vet is gone and the animals adapt to their new circumstances. Billy is standing at the side fence with the bleeding stott – I can sense his confusion and reproach. He was not damaged- but herded – I broke a compact, I’ll make it up to him tomorrow.