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

Trousers rolled

Margot phones as I leave the shed. I don’t know it’s her, just contort to get to the phone before it rings out. Not so simply done:- half the time I don’t remember which of multiple pockets I have stored it in. Often, as in this case, I have to burrow through layers of outer clothing before even getting close to the noisy little apparatus. I locate it in time to answer her query about hosting a writing group at the farm. To hear more about this exciting prospect I must maintain the dodgy phone signal – I stand without moving in the middle of the farm road, just inside the gate to the A86.
I cannot bend down to pull up my overtrousers rolled down around my knees. I am wearing the first hat to hand – a llama herder type woven helmet with long tassels. I stand frozen in my driveway
– when the council workers pull up to turn in the bellmouth just outside the gate.
I ignore them with dignity.

Moira and her wee lad wish I would ignore them.
When I unite them after overnight separation he heads straight for the udder. It looks like he’s feeding – there are even sucking noises- but not on the teat, Some instinctual signal is not being received. The vet checked for physical deformities and found him fully functional – but perhaps one of the body’s subtle mechanisms is failing, like smell perhaps.
I believe that he will come to understand what the flappy bits under his mother’s rear end are for, and how he claims the bounty hidden there, but for the moment we follow the contrived routine.
Pen both animals, kidnap baby, try the bottle, give up, suspend the bag, insert the tube, remove when bag empty, milk mother into bottle, release both into field.

These are the facts. These mean that Moira is kept free from infection, and her calf lives- another day. It is a routine – but failure in any part means that we might lose him.
Snow falls in fat wet flakes as mother and son trek through the herd.

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Exchange of views

I got back from Edinburgh yesterday after a day and a half of lugging furniture down three flights of stairs, into the truck, across Edinburgh to Portobello where the incongruous cattle trailer is parked. offload and back into town.
Nightwatchman Norman treats me to a Chinese takeaway in his small mobile office at the gate of the lorry park before I pull out. The Forth Road bridge is shut for high winds prolonging the trip home. Finally arrived, the same high winds disturb my sleep – so today I am tired — and very crabby.
The Nog is looking nervous.
Moira’s baby still hasn’t found the tit = so he needs force-feeding by tube, and she needs stripping of her burden of milk.
This evening I go to bring them in, and Moira is getting stroppy about entering the pen –
I am stroppy too.
The baby goes in. She stays out.
Tough.

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

Right idea- wrong end.

Farming is about improvised stratagems proving effective as routines.
Force feeding Moira’s calf has become such.
I deal with him after breakfast: he needs the time – after the others have been seen to.
Lock his mother in the handling crate – take him through to where the loose hay bale is stored for little girls Alice and Holly, back him against the bale, and, straddling him, offer the bottle. When this fails, wrestle him to the ground and try again.
When this fails, hang the bag on the hook in the beam, fill it with warm milk, sit under it, holding the calf with his back against my chest, head extended upwards, insert the tube all the way,open the clip and fill his stomach with lifegiving milk. O – and ignore gasps gurgles, surges,spasms, bleats and death rattles until the last drop has flowed.
He gets to his feet as soon as the tube is removed- we leave the shed together to join his mother. I hold the bottle under the nearest teat and start to fill it. Once most of the milk is down, I head round to the other side of the crate to work of the parallel teat, keeping a canny eye on the baby under her belly. As I’d hoped he makes use of my absence to move close to his mother, exploring.
When I return to his side, I find him with his head lowered beneath her body.
This is real progress.
As a big calf with a low slung mother, he needs to dip his head, even drop to his knees, to make use of the teat. I can hear him slapping his head against the underside of her body – thwack – it sounds like a punch – thwack. His instincts tell him to release the milk in the udder. He is not hitting the udder.
He is under her forward leg- her armpit, bashing her chestbone.
I nudge him gently towards the rear. I am on my knees, he is standing. Our heads are together. The teat swings invitingly inches from our faces.
We have lessons to learn yet, my brother.

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

Calculations and consequences

Looking down from Sarah Justina’s crag where her monument presides, the features of the farm are laid out like a baize cloth for a table game. The major pieces are fixed: the roundhouse and bunkhouse connected by the oak bridge, the farm sheds with the yard between, fences dividing the ground into discrete, irregular segments.
Other pieces are mobile. The cattle trailer is now parked next to the old mobile home used while I was building the house; the bale buggy rests in the yard after running a fresh supply of hay down to Angus Halfhorn and Alice. The beasts have wandered up to the shed for their evening feed from the round feeder, leaving only the new mums: Holly with her delicate white heifer calf born yesterday and Moira with my nemesis- a beautiful little bull who won’t live unless I force milk down his throat.
I must move the mobile pieces around the farm board.
This morning, little Holly and Alice follow the feed bucket out from the shed across the yard and into the wood – these babes must stay there until I have finished with the space, the square they normally occupy. I need it now for Moira and the boy – push them across, lift the boy in my arms, run down the narrow corridor to the handling crate chased by the frantic mother, duck out of the crate pushing the lad ahead of me, double back and latch her securely.
Now I try him first on yesterday’s milk: if I fail I will have another chance after refilling the bottle.
I fail.
Back to square mum.
I tug down three litres of golden liquid. Her bag softens, her teats are flaccid: she moans gently as the pressure eases.
And he refuses it. I force half into his stomach using the tube.
Released into the field, I will wait to bring them back in this evening.
In the morning they will be back in play. There will be new moves.

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

Sleepy knowing

Three swans display on the lochain, dipping heads rhythmically on long necks. Spring comes on like a slow download- and I am sitting against a hay bale entangled with a recalitrant baby.
Moira and her calf are standing in the pen first thing, but he continues to show no interest in feeding.
After seeing to the rest of the herd I push the pair across the yard – pen her, kidnap him and settle him in the hay.
After a few routine skimishes that leave me looking furtively out the door to see if anyone is observing just how much dignity can be lost in handling a small animal, I achieve some control.
Moira’s baby is draped over my outstretched left leg, my right is laid over his stomach. My left arm encircles the front of his chest my hand propping his head: the bottle is in my right. It holds three litres of beautiful yellow first milk expressed from his mother yesterday – my arm is beginning to shake. He holds the teat in his mouth; I hold the bottle in place in case he decides to start sucking. My back hurts.
At least he’s relaxed – his breathing is deeper, his eyes are closed not staring. The bottle is in place

– and he’s snoring.

This is not part of the plan- and yet, as he sleeps his mouth moves on the teat, every now and then his throat contracts as a few drops of milk slide down it.
Awake – and he loses the knowledge.
So no progress today – I use the stomach tube again, holding him fiercely as a full 11/2 litres of milk makes its way down the tube and into his belly. I remove the tube as he collapses into the hay – I do the same, staring up at the beams where the chookies roost. Recovering first – I persuade him that he’s not dead and slide the door back. He follows into the daylight where his mother is waiting to walk with him down to the field.
For the first time, he stays on his feet, shows interest in the other animals. He is stronger.
Mid – afternoon and Holly has calved. Her baby goes straight to her belly even before being licked clean – she looks like she has been brushed with egg yolk.
And she is feeding.

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Animal stories, Farm Accommodation, farm bunkhouse, Farm Life, farm visitors, Highland cattle, new birth, Uncategorized

Earning a living

Business- my business demands that I make up the beds for this weekend’s guests-it is the afternoon’s work. My farm business demands that I safeguard my stock- my living assets. One of those assets is coated in red curls, with large eyes and long lashes-drawing a smile from the vet when she sees him curled in the soft hay.
I was out early to check on his welfare, unsure of what I would find. I am fairly certain that he will not have found his mothers overburdened teats; but whether one litre of milk force-fed yesterday will be enough to maintain his fragile forces – that I don’t know.
He is on his feet – not feeding, not even inquiring; just standing quietly alongside his mother. This show of strength frees me to attend to the rest of the herd in the familiar way, before I focus on the challenge he represents. The urgency of the situation is mine to generate; he shows none.
I must fill the vacuum created by his passivity.
The bottle of yesterdays milk is prepared in a bucket of warm water, also softening the stomach tube that I may be obliged to resort to. I am determined on patience. I catch Moira in the handling crate to separate the two, and carry him inside the shed to offer him the bottle- and again, and again. If he learns to suck on the plastic teat, if he gains the desire for his mother’s milk, he will, before long find where it comes from.
But not yet.
I sit against the hay bale my legs drawn up to cup his small strong body. My left arm is wrapped round his chest while my right holds the bottle to his mouth, gently rocking it to ease milk into his mouth – drops of milk: he needs pints.
Gaby arrives at noon and helps me try a second time – with a free hand available, she squeezes the teat, massages his mouth around it. He masticates as if chewing gum, but does not suck
He condemns us to the tube. We will force him to live. Another joyless litre finds its way down his throat. He stands ready to rejoin his mother.
Gaby looks at me. ‘You have milk in your hair’ she says.

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Fighting for life – me that is – not him!

There is a roebuck up the hill- standing to peer at the Nog and me as we approach Sarah Justina’s monument mounted on the crag overlooking the farm. He watches us unperturbed for a moment and then bounds away easily.
Three swans skirt the fringes of the farm below me, flying east over the black water of the quiet river.
In the field below the calving paddock, two figures remain: Moira and her calf.
Down the hill on the farm one more, I herd the pair towards the gate and up the road to the holding pen. He is still not taking milk from her so I confine them to concentrate their minds. I am delighted at his progress, he is looking fit and even causing problems for me by running to and fro. it is the kind of problem I don’t mind having.
Except that Demi-Og is raging and howling at the gate to the pen – there is no sign of her baby at her heels. I scan the field – and spot a russet bundle lying against the woodland fence, exactly where Moira led her baby after I released her from the handling crate.
I have corralled her with the wrong calf!
I speed across the field on the quad, ignoring howls of Demi Og’s outrage echoing from the shed, and catch up to the baby just as he struggles to his feet. I pounce on him before he can totter of and remount the machine, settling him across my lap, and clamping him there as he struggles to escape. Both of us relax only when I have restored him to his mother who licks him vigorously on the the neck and under the belly.
But he does not feed-
-and he did not feed this morning.
Yesterday i was sympathetic, aiming to encourage his instincts. Whatever the reason, these are failing him, directing him to her rear not her side. Now I have ajob to do – get some milk into him.- with Moira in the handling crate, I wrestle him to his knees and when he opens his mouth to bleat blue murder, I stuff one of her teats into it.
He hangs there-inert- like a fruit on a stem.
Next I milk her into a feeder bottle – enclosing the teat loosely in my fist, bashing up against the udder, squeezing the milk released into the teat using forefinger and thumb and then folding my fingers strongly down the teat in sequence until the milk spurts into the bottle.
It has paired sounds, perhaps as old as any uniting man and beast: the first, thin like the whirr of a fly’s wings, as the jet hoses the vessel’s side; the second, plump and rich and as it plunges full into the frothing liquid.
The second stage is reached with the 3 litre bottle filled from little more than two teats; half of Moira’s capacity.
Now I carry him inside the shed, nestle him against a hay bale and present the brimming bottle, the teat softened in warm water. I squirt some on his nose, insert the teat into the side of his mouth. Instead of curling his tongue round it to squeeze out the milk the way I handed his mother, he uses it to eject my offering.
I have to work while the milk is still warm; drive a screw into a beam, fill the bag with half the contents of the bottle, cramp his struggling body between my thighs and insert the tube down his throat. The first time I may not be far enough down to avoid the lungs, the second time he struggles violently enough to dislodge the tube, the third time I grip him tight, slide the tube as far a I can against his gagging, and open the clip on the tube. The bag empties rapidly, he gasps and heaves.
If I am wrong I will kill him: if right -this abuse will buy him a few hours.
The shadow of his denial darkens the day.

 

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Chooks, Farm Life, Highland cattle, Uncategorized, Uvie Farm

I will lift mine eyes -(given half a chance..)

Today I have the specific to observe-

-and the general.
Specifically, I am keeping a close eye on Moira’s new baby. Strong and well-set, he won’t stay that way for long if he doesn’t make use of his mother’s swollen udder.
And that’s part of the problem – she is so big that her teats are almost touching the ground: they are certainly dragging in the mud around the feeder. So they not only stick out rigidly from the bag like the spikes on a beached mine,
-but they are covered in unsavoury clart.
I move her up from the bottom field, walking quietly behind the pair in the sunshine. Where she goes, he follows- so I just guide her gently up the slope away from the paddock, through the stott’s field, and up the road to the yard. I am impressed as usual by the stamina of the newborn – this is a massive trek for something tiny and new.
I hurry him through the gates into the handling crate and then duck out of it pushing him ahead knowing that she will be chasing after me. Once she is locked in I squeeze down some milk for each teat, it comes easily – but the boy won’t take it.
Sometimes instinct just isn’t enough. I close them in the calving pen for the night, he sucks gleefully
– on her tail.
More work for the morning- unless the confined space of the pen concentrates their minds.
So much for the specific-

-there is also the general –
– all-round observation, checking the sky-
-which is clear.
All day.
There
is
not
a
single
cloud.

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farm bunkhouse, Farm Life, Highland cattle, Living with Nature, new birth, Uncategorized

The newcomer

Al and I arrive back at the Roundhouse to offload the cattle trailer. It is full, not of cattle but of timber cleared from the building site at the Pottery Coffee Shop. We pile it against the granite bedrock rearing out of the ground behind the house. I aim to burn this in the company of friends on a fine evening.
This late afternoon is golden without the fire- undoubtedly the best day of the year, sunny and still.
As we work I become aware that the stotts- the young males- are gathered at the far end of the field, captivated by events out of view. They have been posturing with Angus Halfhorn on the other side of the fence, but this time they are not roaring and Billy is displaying no interest in any male displays.

They gather in a group craning over the fence like boys outside a circus.

I cannot afford to ignore a signal like this: so drop my task and cross the field to join the spectators. In the corner against the wood Angus Halfhorn, Alice and Moira are knotted, mobile, circling – indistinguishable one from another. Moira breaks out from the huddle and, after a moment, I understand the reason for the disturbance. There are four animals here, not three – she has given birth. The newcomer is already active on unsteady legs- a bullcalf as I find out a moment later.
She has a massive bag, the baby is strong, the sky is clear. it will be cold tonight and he may not suck. The frost will form on his infant back, he will curl shivering – but he will live, God willing.

Tomorrow I will find whether I need to intervene for his welfare; for tonight- I will leave it to Moira.

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Farm Accommodation, farm bunkhouse, Farm Life, Living with Nature, Other People's Stories, Uncategorized

Getting a better signal

This is the second night in a row I have enjoyed an extended ‘phone conversation with a young man about life, work and everything but the price of fish. Last night it was my stepson Jake: tonight, my son Ran.
The truth is – and I tell them this: it is laughable that a smallholder in an isolated part of North Britain, breeding a marginal herd of cattle and doing the laundry for walking groups – should advise on contemporary metropolitan career paths.
But I do it anyway.
Ran has a remarkable take on decision making: the avoidance of regret.
I tell him to leave regret to the oldies: its our specialism.
I also tell him I’m standing on the deck (for a better signal) under a clear night sky-
– in the light of a halfmoon.

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