Animal stories, Farm Life, Highland cattle, Uncategorized

Babies have the longest road

Little Jess is delighted: the ducklings have hatched.
Mother duck is sitting still. There are eggs under her and three ducklings poking out from under her downy breastfeathers.
The long grass and stems on the island have been flattened by frost and rain, so the female mallard has no cover apart from her colouring that blends with the wintry vegetation.

She attempts to look like rock.

Once the rest of her eggs have hatched: her frenetic soot balls will find their true element on the water, and safety from predators.
For now she must sit- and wait –
while Jess and I hope for a good morning.

There is another young survivor on the farm road this evening –
Moira’s half calf, a quasi autonomous republic,
population of one
or even
one half
who watches his mother up to the yard to be fed and penned
and stays cropping the sweet grass at the base of the birches
for a good hour
before shambling
up to the bucket of nuts I had placed there for him.


With just a litre of mother’s milk coaxed down his reluctant gullet,
he has made it up the road
thus far.


Changeover day – fair & foul

I am making beds when Ian phones to say he is bringing my order of cattle feed from Inverness.
Up to the yard, fire up the old JCB, and wait at the gate for the flatbed to arrive,
I check oils, gear and engine- while I wait.
Fortunately Ian arrives before I can ingrain enough engine oil into my hands to threaten the laundered sheets that I have to sretch on the beds.

It is a day of sunshine. The weather sets no constraints.

Anything is possible.

Fair & Foul - Laundry with the bowser

Fair & Foul – Laundry with the bowser


Moira comes up to the yard: her little man stays down.

He is spavined

and saddlebacked

but more independant by the day.

I watch him among the trees, nibbling at the newly greening                                                                                                                                         while I strip her of milk

she moves her feet to give me access:

it must be a relief.

When I finish her, I take a water bowser down for the guests and then back up again to feed the little girls and force a reluctant litre of Moira’s creamy milk into her delinquent son.
Where the other calves are racing around: he plods like a little old man,                        eating grass and concentrate, like an adult:                                                                                                                                not his mother’s wonderful milk.

Babe in the wood

Babe in the wood

And today he was lying out in the grass, like a little old man –
enjoying the sun,
chewing a contented cud.
Maybe adulthood has something to offer –
even at one month old.


Animal stories, Farm Life, farm visitors, Living with Nature, Uncategorized, wildlife

Bird in the box

Today the halfcalf finds his own way inside the shed.
It doesn’t mean that he will co-operate in taking milk on board-
but it is affirmation of a kind.

He and mother have learned to expect a tub of concentrate at bedtime.
I split this – so that he is able to feed alongside Moira rather than competing with her
and getting his head jammed in the bucket when she lowers hers.

The tubs are empty mineral lick containers- roughly 18″ by 12″ by 8″ deep. Both are upside down – this is not uncommon as the animals kick them over on leaving the pen.
Any feed left inside will be polished off by chickens and wild birds, tipping the lightweight container to reach the contents.

I upend the first tub – a feathered brown firework explodes in a manic blur that shoots across the yard and into the sky. A hen pheasant had managed to tip the bucket over, trapping herself.
It is so extraordinary and unexpected that I don’t have time to be surprised or shocked;  just carry on with the chores.
I tip the second one upright.

A female mallard makes her escape.

Animal stories, Farm Accommodation, Farm Life, farm visitors, Highland cattle, Living with Nature, Uncategorized, Uvie Farm, wildlife

against the wind

The guests have nearly emptied the tanks that I have to fill manually.
I work to diagnose the failure of the borehole pump- a blown capacitor may be evidence of a faulty motor –

or a faulty capacitor.

This is the second day I have worked at this –
costing me time.
It is the second month
I have worked to safeguard the life of Moira’s halfcalf-
costing me time and vet’s fees.
As I return to prepare the milk-
three herons fly over the farm road-
in a stiff headwind.


No more stopgap stopcock

It’s sunny and warm with a sailor’s wind, carrying the smell of reviving life.
It’s a day for cultivation – the nearest most humans will get to the urge for seasonal migration.
The day calls for turned earth-
– and I am pulling the pump from the borehole.
There is no water coming into the roundhosue or the bunkhouse where the guests stay – I fill a bowser at the shed to siphon it into the tanks – one load early and one in the afternoon. It is not too arduous but I need to resolve the problem before this stop-gap becomes semi-permanent.
I stand by the bowser as it fills- it is a good day for standing. The yard is sheltered from the breeze and the sun is warm. The Maran hens are scratching at the dust while cocky gimps about looking more lopsided by the day. A woodpecker hammers industiously somewhere close by, and the mallard drakes squabble on the pond.
This passivity is entirely seductive-
I look for something to do.
The tap used to fill the tank is at ground level – just installed on the end of the undergrounded pipe, a stopgap stopcock.
I know I have some fittings in the shed and certainly some alkythene. I do – but not all. There are no inserts to strengthen the pipe when the couplings are tightened.
The joints sometimes work without-
It would be unwise to interfere with the current arrangement as the entire farmstead is dependant on it-
but it would fill the time.
I make up the new section that will bring the tap to a working height: straight coupling, alkythene, elbow, vertical pipe. Now time to close the tap and reinstate it on the end of the new line and screw it to one of the poles supporting the roof.
Water back on – it squirts –
but from only one joint.
Not workable but a result.
Now I have an incentive to find those inserts.
I reflect that sometimes we walk through non-viability on our way to refinement.
On the hill this evening discrete clouds scud from the west like flotillas against the blue, smoke is driven over Kingussie from heather fires. From here I can see the front of flame, driven before the wind – on the verge of being uncontrollable.
Tasty young heather shoots will sprout there in a year or two-
for the while it will remain a wasteland,
devoid of life,
non-viable, apparently.


Turning wheels and workhorses

Calum, my neighbour, is working on the old quadbike.
It’s been laid up in the shed for a few years. Finding parts can be hard – the specification can change from one year to the next. I need to work out its age -must be thirty years old. As it happesn though it’s kind of classic – a Honda workhorse that it renowned for being unstoppable, Sure enough, by the end of the morning Calum has me flying down the farm road to test it: the Nog barking manically alongside as usual.
Calum grew up on the isle of Islay – with workhorses – real ones. The farm was worked with one, the kids went to school on it – and today Calum tells me of stalking deer as a ponyman.
He would lie on the open hill – sometimes for many hours- with the horse waiting for the shot or the red flag that meant that the carcase could be loaded for the journey home. As Calum recalls, it wasn’t really him leading the horse. He would lose sight of the stalker and the shooter, often working their way slowly forward on their bellies. If he needed to catch them again, he just checked the horse’s gaze, and direct his binoculars the same way. Sometimes he would be asleep when the whistle blew – the horse would set off at once, dragging him like a sled.
We talk of the old roads, through the farm, up the hill to the deep black bogs where the winter fuel would be cut out and dried over the summer. I can tell he hankers to reopen the cuttings.
Not for the sake of history,
but for warmth.
And he’ll cart it down-
with the quadbike.

Farm Accommodation, farm bunkhouse, Farm Life, new birth, Uncategorized, Uvie Farm

squeezed out & dried up

It’s rained all day.
Footering about the house.
No Sunday walk for the Nog.
At 4.30 I spot Moira up at the yard – she’s had enough. Her frail baby is with her- bedraggled, head down.
I open up the pen and set some food for both. Moira comes through the gate and turns aside to steal food from the store bag as she normally does. Her baby follows and batters ineffectually at her head to allow him in.
She ignores him, of course – but his new found assertion is a good sign.
I groan.
I can’t put them in yet.
He needs more after a day like this.
Fill a bucket, rattle it at Moira. She follows into the handling pen. Push the boy in close the gate. Down to the house to pick up the bottle and a kilner jar. Back up to the yard, push her round into the race: she enters easily and waddles down to the crate, ready to be relieved of her burden. Close the door. Squeeze the tit – slow to begin and then squirting easily into the jar-on to the next until full.
Shunt him inside the shed. Pour the milk into the bottle; teat on the top. Catch him between my legs with his rear backed into a corner. Open his mouth with my finger, insert the teat. He takes small sucks.
I squeeze the bottle.
He swallows.
I squeeze, he swallows.
He should be pulling at the fluid -a healthy calf will empty a bottle in seconds.
I squeeze..
I am determined that he will take the full amount of warm milk decanted into the Evian bottle chosen for the purpose at the local Co-Operative store.
I have a failsafe – I can always tube the milk into his stomach- but I risk inflaming his gullet –
better squeeze & swallow.

And I stick to the task –                                                                                                      the last drops disappear into the teat.

The bottle is almost unrecognisable – wrung out like a dishcloth.

He’s fed –
but wet.

If he gets chilled in this condition it will kill him.
I have a blowdrier and brush nearby for the showcattle.
I dry and brush him end to end. I have done the same with many fine Highland cattle –
never with one like this-

small and ratty-
this is not for showing-
it’s for saving.Image

Animal stories, Farm Accommodation, farm bunkhouse, farm visitors, Highland cattle, Uncategorized

Dysfunctional – unless it works

Changeover day – new guests in: so house cleaning today – with the added complication of filling the water tanks manually since the borehole pump failed on Thursday, but first-
Moira’s calf.
A calf who doesn’t like milk.
A calf who refuses everything suitable that I offer him.
A calf who is still standing.
I now split Moira’s feed into two buckets: I know he will compete with her, copy her, and she will make no concessions.

This gives him a few more precious mouthfuls.

He takes a few feeble licks from the mineral tub, sucks from the bottle of rehydration salts that I hold in his mouth for a good twenty minutes. I can feel his bones as I sit with my leg pinning him down in the hay.

He is building no muscle, no meat.
Tell the truth, he never will-
if he lives.

He follows his mother out of the yard and down the farm road. I catch glimpses of the pair at different spots during the day, much of it in the small clearing in the birches above the house. I haven’t seen them here before. It means they are foraging more widely.

The casual oberver would see nothing amiss: mother and calf moving steadily across the pasture, heads down. A stockman would immediately feel discomfort at this behaviour, the size of the calf, the cow’s swollen udders.
It’s not right-
and yet he’s there all day –                                                                                             moving munch                                                                                                                         by tiny munch –                                                                                                                         of thin untimely grass.

As the windy afternoon fades, he and his mother return to the yard, ready to be penned for the night.

Farm Life, Highland cattle, highland landscapes, Living with Nature, Uncategorized

Keeping the peace

The birches at the bottom are greening with tiny knobs of curled leaf: higher up the farm road they are skeletal still. The climb up the burnside after the Nog remains unadorned – though I almost know that it will change soon.
Yesterday the animals paraded through the open gate – then required shedding to their new homes: the younger cows to join Angus Halfhorn for his first season as stud bull.
I am concerned that, at three days old, it is early for Alice’s calf to cope with a sudden influx of older animals: but the opportunity to shift the animals has to be taken.
My choice: their time.
Single handed on the farm I have to work their way to do things my way.
The old bull,my darling Bill, has spent the day sitting by the fence looking down to where his son Angus  partners cows that were with him last year. He is still there when I down last thing after my hill climb with the Nog. Alice’s baby is running in joyful circles with the other, larger calves.
She is fearless-
unlike her mother who, forgetting her cracked hooves, chases after her like a clumsy shadow.
Billy is now standing at the fence above, roaring, raking the ground with hoof and horn. Angus responds to the challenge. There are still two fences between them-
but as I watch Billy uproots a line of three posts and the connecting wires.
Angus is roaring his challenge from below. I chase him back to the girls: he flounces down the hill kicking his heels.
Billy is still knocking hell out of my fence; he has created a gap large enough to get through if he wants.
I reprimand him.
I hit him with a stick.
I spot a feed bag caught on the fence. He turns as I pick it up and follows me across the hayfield back to the calving paddock, where I close him in after rewarding him.
Staying there depends on him – a fence, a gate is mere suggestion.
Co-operation is best-

after all he’s bigger than me.



Not according to plan- no surprise there

Today is not on script.
First I feed Billy and the girls at the calving paddock by the shed, then lead little Holy and Alice into the woods where they will pass the day in the open.
I spend some extra time with Moira’s ailing baby and by the time I arrive to feed the bullocks on the hardstanding, black Abby has come down for second helpings.
Her greed may provide an opportunity.
I have to move the females in with Angus Halfhorn the young bull, if they are to calve early next year. I can lure the mothers with a feed bucket, but the babies stay in the field they have known all their short lives. If I try to round them up they head away form the gate towards the open ground and while I can chase them down with the quad, they can outmanouevre me- so I have to seek their compliance.
Find the time, not force it.
So I open the gate to let Abby through –
see what happens.
Richie and Sharon are leaving the bunkhouse, Claire and family are coming in: a quick turnaround.
The water dries in the taps as I wash up breakfast.
No bother – it’ll be a trip switch.
it isn’t.
The water tanks are empty. All systems are working but no water is coming in. I don’t need to know why just yet: I just have to ensure that Claire and Graham have water.
There is another well for the cattle. I can bowser water across to the house from the shed. The bowser won’t get close to the door, but if I park above the house, I might fill into the basement below. I need to duct it for the bowser. Loops of large bore alkythene lie just inside the gate to the wood: I saw it when I let the girls in. I drag it down with the quad. The nozzle to the bowser wont fit the pipe. Hacksaw the jubilee clips, saw off the nozzle- sweet – the hose slides neatly into the bowser pipe. The other end has to be fed into the tanks, which are enclosed and insulated against the cold. Find my holecutters: the biggest should be enough, drill from both sides, feed the pipe in. Back up to the shed – fill the bowser, down to the house, connect outlet and hose- the water roars into the tank . Three more trips- the well is empty but the tanks are full.
Now for the rest of the day –
O hell –
I left that gate open.