Animal stories, Farm Accommodation, Highland cattle, Uncategorized, Uvie Farm

Market day – barely.

Market day today – broken sleep guarranteed. I dream of missing holiday flights – in fact missing holiday airport.
The routine needs reversing so Moira and the boy get dealt with before the other animals get fed. It takes too long, but finally they are out to the field and I can bring the boys up to the yard and select the three to take, shedding the younger ones.
Back down to pick up the trailer.
It’s not there.
It’s been stolen.
Phone the mart, the police –
aaah-
I left it on site at the Pottery ready to load for recycling.
I’m going to be late – but nothing for it.Jump in the truck, down to the Pottery, hitch up and back again.

Reverse into the yard, adjust the gates for loading the boys – hope they co-operate.

Three of them, half a ton apiece, and me.

They have always been well treated so I don’t shout or hit them – just confine them using the gates, and, with a little encouragement they find their way into the mobile tin can that is going to ship them away from the only home they have ever known.
Driving the main road south, I control my speed while calculating just how late I am going to be. They won’t be sold at the start so I have a little leeway – fifteen minutes in should be okay – half an hour even – longer?

I might even have to turn round and take them home.
It has taken more than two years to prepare them for this day
and
I’m
LATE.

Stirling mart is hidden at the back of an industrial estate: I don’t know the route well. I refer to a Google earth print-out after leaving the motorway.

It is wrong.
After the first roundabout I am lost. I return to pick up the route. I am still lost. I just drive on, hauling my trailer full of patient highland cattle through the byzantine traffic systems, mini roundabouts and leafy suburbs of a city I have no knowledge of. I tell myself to trust in what my mother termed a ‘bump of locality’- an instinctive sense of direction. I am supposed to have a good one.
I finally ease to a halt at a filling station. The lady at the till looks hopeless when I ask her the way to the auction mart-
then-
‘Which one?’
‘er- the old one?’
‘O that’s first left, over the roundabout, through the traffic lights, over the next roundabout: it’s on the right between the Renault and Nissan garages.


Angels are also those with a good local knowledge. She’s right – perfectly.
Cattle sold – back up the road – job done.

The truck breaks down fifteen miles from home.

Could have been worse.
Could have been on the way down.

 

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hillwalking, History of the Highlands, Living with Nature, Uncategorized, wildlife

Soaring- with an eagle even.

None of us is wholly attached to this earth.
This is true of humans too.
Moira’s baby is barely resident on this plane – a half calf.
The old folks, especially the women gathered by the flanks of the milk cows every morning, would tell stories of milk supped by fairies at night.
Moira is losing no milk this way, but the lad still part resides in the palaces under the hill, where the night is spent dancing and spinning, where he is free to soar and where to breathe is to eat, so rich the air.
All that retains him here is the russet mass of his lumbering mother, and a strange bare forked animal that throws him to the ground to invade his mouth, holds him tight while half suffocating him with a tube in his throat, and locks him to the earth with the shackles of his will.
Passing by the field later on the quad, I see Billy on his feet. The little lad is transfixed by this gigantic apparition (his father), staring stock still, as if in disbelief that this might be his adult pattern. Billy sheepishly shakes his head and looks away.

It is Sunday: I have promised the Nog a longer walk.

We cross the road from the farm and work our way up though the old quarry, the birches loud with the memory of descending slipes, horsedrawn sledges used to cart granite block down to the road.
At the top of the burnside path, I catch up to the shadows of peat carts, hook my stick to a backboard as they wind slowly up the hill road and then cut across country to the spot where Nog and I surprised the deer last night.
We move out across the plateau, leaving the old drowned cuttings behind: picking up the ghosts of my father and grandfather who walked this same ground.

We cross to the far edge where the ground drops away before rising again to the arctic waste of the Monadhliath range, still heavy with snow.
The mountains are grouped around the Dalbhallach flats as if encicling a lagoon, an inundated crater. They are roundtopped; the connecting valleys swag like fabric, swathing the hills as if storing furniture. In spite of the upflift to the view of the mountains, I have a strong sense that to progress into this wilderness is to plunge, not rise.

I watch the hills across the valley, my eyes climbing the air towards them as I approach the lip. Before the ground falls away, perhaps disturbed by my approach, from a vantage directly in front but below me, and as if carrying my volition, the outspread wings of the eagle launch the giant bird effortlessly outward from the face. Within seconds she is slowly spooling arcs in the still air at the centre of the cooling lagoon.

‘Oh My..’
The sound of my voice breaks the stillness, unbidden.

Words surface in my memory:
‘Come to the edge!’
‘I cannot. It is too steep.’
‘Come to the edge!’
‘I am scared. I will fall.’
‘COME TO THE EDGE!’
So he came-
and he fell-
and he flew.

 

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Animal stories, farm bunkhouse, Highland cattle, highland landscapes, hillwalking, Living with Nature, Uncategorized, Uvie Farm

Ridge world

Old roads, half hidden, carry ghost traffic up the hill.

Carts hauled by small horses coaxed up the zigzags eased over the years by a stone placed here to support a slope, an incline there dug level. At one point where two drains meet in a small gully at the base of the climb to the ridge, tumbled stones mark the remains of a handbuilt dam protecting a ford where the vehicles might cross. I take a moment to study the contours to check the extent of the lagoon that would be created by such a barrier: but it’s too long gone.
The Nog is waiting above, I turn to follow.
The hill divides as we arrive at the crest where a fence separates sheep pasture from genuine moorland. The Nog finds the low section and jumps over, follows the peat road crossways, runs forward and then halts – winding something.
I come up to the near edge of the plateau to find him intent on the near horizon.

A herd of fifty red deer enjoy the calm of late afternoon. Hinds and calves graze with their heads down in the dead ground below. The breeze at their backs gives them no warning: they are unaware of our presence. The ridge above is lined with stags, mature beasts with full antlers. They have seen us but at this time of the year are not too alarmed – just enough to lift their heads to face us full on. Some are standing, showing the full mass of their powerful bodies silhouetted. Others remain prone, swivelling their necks, heads outlined against the distant snowy slopes of the Monadhliath foothills.

The antlers rise towards the hazy blue of the sky in a symmetrical bow like a prayer: alert ears extend along  horn reinforcing the base of cupped void like petals against a stem.

As I move forward, they gather and turn. Arrived at the position they have abandoned I find them strung out to the far horizon, watching but unconcerned.

The lead stag, a royal, waits down the hil, alone – assessing when to rejoin the herd.

Standing here I have a view round three quarters of the snowfields bounding the horizon. A chill breeze breathes from the north east but the sun is warm mitigated by a storm haze that sends windwracked clouds floating overhead like aquatic mammals.

Down at the farm a small red calf is waiting to be let in to the night pen.

I call in the Nog as I turn to descend.

With luck he ‘ll be able to run further tomorrow.

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Animal stories, Chooks, farm bunkhouse, Farm Life, Highland cattle, Uncategorized, Uvie Farm

Lone Journey

 

A large and lonely bird flies south toward Drumochter pass.

I spied the same angular profile heading the other way midweek; the local paper confirms what I thought at the time. A large bird was spotted at Dalwhinnie struggling to rise from the water of the loch with a fish in its talons:-

the osprey is back.

O – and so is another fisherbird – the oyster catcher – glimpsed from my south windows drifting down towards the river to find grubs and hidden sandy hollows for nesting.

The yard too fills with birds. The chooks are competing with pheasants, mallards, and lots of lively chaffinches whose songs festoon the still bare birch branches.

And I encourage  life in a small calf.

This evening he stands head lowered, unresponsive to the advances of Holly’s bright white heifer – fit enough though to follow his mother up to the yard, and the comfort of the pen they have grown used to overnighting in.

Tonight is different.

Once they are both safely penned, I inveigle Moira through to the shared part of the shed and trap little man behind. She can see him, lie alongside – but he has to fend for himself til morning.

There is just a chance he will do this-

there has been a small change.

Moira waits in the handling crate for me to strip her of this morning’s load. Her little lad is nosing round the yard, including the tub of mineral lick – he sniffs it in his usual dopey way –

and licks! –

and again, lifting his head with sticky mineral goo dripping from his chin.
I set down the tub by me while milking, knowing that curiosity will bring him over, even drop some calf muesli into it. By the time I have finished so has he- the smooth brown surface of the lick is clear of grain.

So tonight he is alone; separate from his mother –
and if he gets hungry-

perhaps for the first time he knows what to do.

 

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Uncategorized

Morag’s Day Out

There is alot to remember. Two bottles, two buckets of warm water, feed tube, stowed ready for use. Close all gates and doors, apart from the ones where I want to channel the beasts.
Moira and her baby know where to go; they might jib a bit but they get there. Moira squeezes down the race into the handling crate, little man at her heels and out the side before the gate is shut behind her. Milk her, feed him and then out to the field.
Today there is a further operation: tagging two calves: Demi Og’s little red bull, another teddy bear like Moira’s, and Holly’s strartling white heifer. More gates to open – pens to create; mother’s separated, babies trapped and then released.- gates open, then close again.
I sit in the office registering the new identifying numbers, numbers carried through life and beyond, when I spot company. Old Morag shambles down the road on three good legs and starts grazing below my window.
I forgot to close the field gate after putting Moira and the boy back to pasture. These two are happy in the field but the old girl has seized the opportunity to take a day out. It doesn’t matter; this evening she will return like a pensioner on a free bus pass.
She settles down, rear to the breeze, face to the sun, chewing the cud, exuding contentment.
She sits among small mounds that provide her with some shelter. I know these shapes, there are stones under the grass, walls in fact. The gaps are windows and doors, the thicker section a chimney, the long tail stretching down the hill maps a cart shed and peat store.
This is Uvie farmhouse. I know what it looks like: thatched, one and a half storey. There is a photograph in the village hall, 1903. There are female figures standing outside the door – Mrs Logan and the two little girls.
They lived and worked here-
on this spot-
where an old white cow takes her ease on a spring day.

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Farm Accommodation, Farm Life, Living with Nature, new birth, Uncategorized, Uvie Farm

Some animals look after themselves

The ailing calf is only alive today because I force milk (and recently minerals) into his stomach. The rest of the herd is just starting to wean itself off dependance on me, the provider. There is a hint of new grwoth in the grass; a foretaste- literally- of summer.
It has been glorious day. I end with a turn up the hill with the Nog, winding round the back of the crag, doffing our virtual cap at Sarah Justina’s monument on the top, and back down again. Over the fence, down the open slope with whitegrass and bog myrtle, turn left into the birches and cross the road back into the farmyard.
I am not on a mission – more of a timeclock. If my sourdough is not to overbake, I have to complete the tour in 40 minutes, back by 25 past.
Simple –

except that a roe doe stands motionless on the brae on watching, poised.

When the Nog takes off in vociferous pursuit, her two calves appear from concealment bouncing away in divergent directions, to reunite later.
The path beside the burn behind the crag leads steeply upwards, bare birch branches outlined against the sky. Two such turn out to be the horns of a pair of billy goats standing on their hind legs, forelegs braced against the trunk.
The Nog takes off and then, after no more than 10 yards, courage failing, noses among the mosses as if looking for mice.
A pair of partridge need pointing and flushing before we can return across the road, the final distraction before rescuing the loaf – 27 minutes past – not bad.
Across the river a herd of forty red deer are grazing contentedly on the new shoots appearing in the wet ground. At a quarter mile distance I can’t pick out individuals, but the ones scampering between different static groups like scouts or couriers – these are the calves.
I enjoy animals where I don’t need to intervene.

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Animal stories, Farm Accommodation, Farm Life, Highland cattle, Living with Nature, Uncategorized

Ave Caesar

Our routine is set. The smoother the progress; the lower the expectation.

I know I can milk Moira; feed her baby – by tube. Wait for tomorrow – when he’ll be a little feebler.
My hope is for an interruption to the expected flow of events – a quantum shift, a bovine epiphany.

The calf won’t suck, doesn’t recognise the teat, doesn’t respond to milk – now I know he doesn’t respond to solids. I tried – this morning- special calf nuts, good as muesli, mixed with creamy mothers milk and plastered round his muzzle- in his mouth –
he cleans it off..
He’s nosing around his mother’s belly as I work on the first teat – tight to start, thin- until she lets it down and the flow is strong and easy.
This is stupid –
I grab him – push his head under her body open his mouth with my fingers and stuff it with the gushing teat.
He hangs as if crucified.
Back to the shed.
After forcing the milk into him- with the tube- I return to Moira to strip her other teats. He wanders out into the yard, belly filled, donders over – puts his nose to mine.
‘Okay boss – no hard feelings’
Ave Caesar

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Uncategorized

Beauty has a function too

A new female has joined Mr & Mrs Duck on the pond; this may mean a second tag team of little black buzz balls on the pond, braving a variety of predators: but it may also mean competition between the parents.
A good day to work outside, part of the invisible sound mosaic elicited by this fragile new warmth; birdsong not sounded in full throated celebration of the new growing and breeding season, more a clearing of the collective throat, a tentative rehearsal for what will come.
The night frost has held the snow to the upper levels of the surrounding hills, now blanched in sunlight – I know that the beauty of this day has a functional clockwork, releasing action slowly and methodically, without constraint or challenge. It is simpler to wait for Moira to lead her baby into the handling crate for milking & feeding respectively: I just need to stand a while longer- in the sun.
The bullocks heading for market next week need retagging; they too find their way down the race with as little intervention as I can manage before getting on with the real purpose of their day: shredding the new haybale parked to reward them for co-operating.
Only problem: Moira’s lad is scouring. His body is rejecting the milk that I have pulled from his mother specially for the purpose. The goodness of the milk is being voided in a grey stream that reeks of goodness corrupted.
I need to continue the routine- but now- after a hundred mile round trip to inverness- I have the means to manage this new frailty.
In the end though, this will always be his task to manage: this living business.

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Animal stories, Farm Accommodation, Farm Life, Highland cattle, Living with Nature, new birth, Uncategorized, Uvie Farm

Intent

It’s not that he wants to die.
I honestly believe he enjoys being alongside Moira his mum, who has milk enough for three.
His limbs are all present and functioning. His organs appear complete. His eye is clear.
So explain this:
I treat Moira like a dairy cow – allow her time to find her own way in to the pen and down the race to the handling crate because by now she knows to expect relief, followed by release: and the passage between the metal gates is a station towards a desired objective.
She is penned and waiting, he is free; with access to her full udder. His nose is dry – he was sucking the long hairs under her chin wetted from her drinking. He is empty: taking nothing in since the last time I tubed a couple of litres into him 24 hours ago.
So why –
-when I pull on the front teat to spatter fresh milk off the floor of the crate, does he prefer to nuzzle her front?
– when I set warmed milk before him, rub some round his muzzle, does he lick it off, sniff the bowl & walk past?
– when I insert the bottle’s teat in his mouth, does he suck a few times, swallow a little and then jerk free?
Today snowshowers battle with sunshine; but by evening the sun has won.
The babies run round the field infecting their mothers with spring fever so that they too throw up their rear legs and dance like drunken Tories.

All the cattle are out at pasture with their heads down, as if the very intent of grazing would urge the grass to grow.

Just one small world seems intent on returning to winter.

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Uncategorized

Day of herons

It’s a day of herons – for no fathomable reason. The first of the day floats past the kitchen window as I’m filling buckets with warm water to heat the milk culled from Moira yesterday- it fills the space like a shark in an aquarium.
It turns back into the west wind to greet a following bird. They sketch a laboured aerial ballet, fly on, turn and circle before gliding down to ground.
This afternoon is bright, sunny and crisp, without wind – a hard little gemstone that will melt suddenly with a snowstorm, but generates brief contentment. Two wagtails perch on bedrock to mimic jumpy eyeballs on some giant moss-covered toad; a juvenile hare lollops across the Apron and halts unadvisedly in the open to wash its whiskers. A grey shadow lurks in the pond: the heron is searching for food- too near to the mallard’s nesting site. Mr Duck stands sentinel on the rock at the centre of the island, bolt-upright, unmoving, every energy focussed on the interloper. I relieve his watch- the heron lifts off as I walk down to the cattle; the drake swivels his neck to monitor me without changing position.
The animals are enjoying the chance to luxuriate. There are four babies: two red, one white and one chocolate – an unauthorised colour. Three are running together, the other is standing under his mother’s throat his head lifted vertically towards her chin – this is Moira and her boy, demanding intensive attention as a result of his failure to suck. For now they make a pretty cameo and he looks fit as a flea. Billy is among the trees knocking hell out of a fallen birch, I see his vast bottom surrounded by flailing branches as I walk down to find the little girls, Holly and Alice, turned out into the wood for the day. They spot me with the feed bucket; bounce up the hill towards me, one red, one grey (dun) their long hair lifting and falling on their heads and flanks.
Highland cattle at the gallop are my favourite sight in the world.
Back inside for the last time today – I watch the grey cloud masking the hills resolve itself in wet snow as the late day heron wafts slowly toward the source of the storm.

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