The sky is clear this morning, all colour frost drained before sun-up. Mist clogs the valley floor rising to a bar of dark pines lining the undulating horizon. The sun surfaces at 8.30, radiating pale above the dark crest, the light core shining past the tree trunks that show as black sticks, burnt studs. The birds are busy – still air fit for those that work the farm: chaffinches, pheasants, partridges and those that travel, geese, jacks, possibly osprey-the longwinged pair that are heading westward high up.

The big stotts are roaring after yesterday’s excitements, but there is nothing wrong that I can see. I take the comb from the truck, show it in my hand – Billy knows the implement and turns his head away presenting the curls on his powerful neck. I scrape down his frozen coat – ice crystals floating off in small clouds – until he is clear. Demi-Og comes close, knocks horns – welcome confidence – she too earns a short spell with the comb.

In the bottom paddock the water trough is gushing, the retaining wooden embrasure (knocked together from feed pallets) is damaged, timber fragments floating on the water.One of the animals has fallen, or more likely been shoved into the trough, breaking it. A new task for the day – but first I must comb Abby’s matted flank, Angie’s head, Holly’s rump- as if we were headed for the showring.

Abby’s gaze is fixed beyond the wire enclosure – I glimpse a head and after a time the roe doe surfaces from the marsh grass. A calf joins her to stand on the sheep cropped river bank silhouetted in the white shadowlight before the sun. A second calf gains confidence to cross the open ground and the three animals bounce lightly eastwards towards the day.



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