Animal stories, farm bunkhouse, Farm Life, Highland cattle, Living with Nature, Uncategorized, wildlife

Today’s animals

A dozen red deer across the river.
Severn mallard drakes gathered in the yard.
The female lurking by the cattle feed bag.
A pair of bright chaffinches on the top rail of the gate.
A small red calf almost too weak to walk.
A cockerel with a limp who starts to crow and stops abruptly on catching my eye.
A neat hen pheasant who eyes me placidly.
A nanny goat with kids coughing in the wood.
Four roe deer: fuzzy rectangles on a distant hill.
A hare running diagonally down the face of a morraine.
A french partridge calling, a heron floating upward off the pond, a raven drifting sideways past the wind.
A strong white heifer butting and tussling its mother for milk.


Half calf

This is all

Back along I said four things were needed-
along these lines:
1. taste for milk
2. ability to suck
3. tit recognition
most importantly
4. desire for life
Well, on count 1-
he fails.
Also on counts 2 & 3.
Oddly though, in a passive, rather joyless, dogged, confused baby kind of a way:
he comes through on No 4.
In pursuit of this, he has
quite simply
bypassed childhood.
When I think he’ll be curled in a sheltered corner, gathering his strength, he’s on his feet,taking baby mouthful after baby mouthful of thin new grass. When he should be using the high nutrition calf starter food that I bought specially, he stuffs his head into his mother’s bucket to share hers.
He’s hasn’t even learned to eat it properly, half masticated grain falls from the side of his mouth.
When he is locked on the pen for the night, he stands at the haybale pulling patient strands.
He doesn’t lie down.


Half calf

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

An easy day for starters

My first fear of the day is the state of the half calf.
Will he be breathing, standing?
He is standing.
Will he, following some unfathomable bovine epiphany, have sucked from his mother?
He hasn’t; he won’t.
Alive though-
competing with his mother for nuts.

These are for grown animals, finishing-nuts, suckling-mother nuts – but here he is with his head stuck into her bucket. When she leans into it to reach the dark grains, she wedges his head inside so he has to wriggle loose.                                                                                                    Somehow this behaviour is reassuring though he is very feeble –

and small-

not growing and fattening like his brothers and his little white sister who is too busy running and jumping to get fatter.
Last night I watched the Nog gallop across the hayfield:

and her galloping after –                                                                                               looking to play.

So I am more relaxed as I quad the bags down to the boys on the hardstanding, and then to Angus halfhorn and Alice in the aspen paddock below-

and she’s calved.

I had forgotten to anticipate this- it has been so long awaited.
And suddenly it’s here –

the newborn

wet and already nuzzling her mother’s stomach-                                                       her instincts are true.

Yes, it’s a heifer- since Alice was bought in from Dingwall mart, I will be able to breed from her in three years.
No time to enjoy her now- I left the gates open on the way down.
But –
for all that-
Welcome, little one.
The day is kind for beginnings.

Animal stories, Farm Accommodation, Farm Life, farm visitors, Highland cattle, highland landscapes, hillwalking, Living with Nature, Uncategorized

Highland Spring

The drama is in the day.
Mild and easy when I put out the feed this morning, the wind starts up mid morning, It is strong but not a storm – a sailors wind, sending vessels scudding.
I have no vessel to scud – so this squall is merely inconvenient, blowing the cement from my shovel before I can fill the mixer-
but not threatening like so many that shake the buildings of a winter night like some nordic ogre.
I am inside when the rain hits the window sliding down half melted. It puts paid to the long walk I have promised the Nog today.
When it stops we leave the house.
At the entrance to the yard, two hundred yards away, the starving half -calf stops on the road and looks back at us as if beckoning. I feed him as efficiently as I can and pen him for the night with mother. She is laden with milk, inaccessible to him through some esoteric interdict of his own choosing.
Colours are clear in the water laden air, distance inviting. On the small summit I watch broken cloud driven across blue sky. To the west the sun is splintered by ragged cloud profiles sending shafts of light earthwards. There is rain coming in, lit with diffused radiance that conceals the shapes of the hills as much as illuminates so that they appear in silhoutte like two dimensional cut outs arranged in series, receding towards unseen summits.
A bird of prey holds itself up in the wind- a crisp profile like a keyhole in space. I run up the brace to stand on the fencepost squinting into the wind in an attempt to identify the bird. My eyes are watering so that I can’t see the ground and have to guess the distance to jump down.
From here I can see that the pasture of the farm is greening slightly, that Alice has not yet calved, that the weekend guests have departed.
A rainbow strikes the far ridge and curves over towards Creag Dubh, spanning the farm.


Bringing on the goats

Moira’s baby walks like a little old man, He does not suck milk as he should: now he follows his mother head down to the thin grass of early spring. It is insanely early in his life to do this: but he is doing it – and he is alive- so far.
I supplement this meagre nutrition with two litres of diluted mineral salts tubed down his throat. I will have to maintain this until his digestion has adapted to an adult diet. Albeit more of a partner now in his own destiny, he would be dead without my persistent intervention – may yet be.
I witness a long-lived example of my grandfather’s intervention this afternoon, walking the Nog up to Sarah Justina’s monument behind the farm. We disturb some goats browsing in the birches alongside the burn. I can’t pick them out among the trees but climbing the open hill in single file they reveal themselves as a group of six nannies with kids. Four of the the babies are shared between the three lead females, the following trio slowed down by the unborn.
I reflect on the success of these babies- without human intercession- set them to it and watch them go.
As my grandfather did.
I wonder how many people know the back story to these animals when they see them browsing at the roadside, or stop the car to photograph the billies with their striking twisted horns.
Archie Anderson – the last man to live up Glen Banchor, served in the Lovat Scouts. The Scouts were an old-fashioned militia-type regiment raised by Lord Lovat, chief of Clan Fraser. Ghillies, stalkers, ponymen, gamekeepers, crofters – they were hard, hill savvy and combat ready, precursors of the SAS and SBS, snipers and guerrillas.
Old habits, like soldiers, die hard: returned to his civil occupation as a shepherd, Archie employed some commando-style methods in caring for his flock. When a ewe was caught on the cliffs of Creag Dubh behind the farm here, Archie would have himself belayed down the cliff on a line with a webbing loop under his oxters. Catching up the errant animal, he would hold it to his chest, lean outwards from the rock and walk back up the face to where Donny Sharp the gamekeeper was taking the strain.
Granpa, himself a veteran of Gallipoli, observed this performance one day – and swore that Archie would never have to do this again. Being a problem-solver, he reasoned out an alternative. If there was no fresh grass on the ledges of the cliff: there would be no reason for the sheep to venture. So another animal was required to deny the sheep their mortal temptation.
He brought in the goats.


Call off the dog

The truck broke down last Monday on the way back from Stirling market. I was hauling the empty cattle trailer, but that was not the problem.
Coming into Perth it occurred to me that the fuel guage was behaving a mite erratically: in fact, it seemed to be registering more diesel than when I set out.
As I continued north, the dial continued to rise the further I drove. I should have realised that something was wrong but perhaps wanted to believe that I had been granted a goblin’s bounty: riding in some enchanted pick-up with a constantly renewing fuel supply.
It ground to a halt in the Drumochter hills, fifteen miles from home.
I booked it into Jimmy’s as soon as I got home.
This morning Moira and her starving calf must wait while I run the truck down to Kingussie.
I make time to pressure-wash the wheel arches so that any attached mud won’t fall into the mechanic’s eyes.
Jimmy straightens up as I arrive;
‘O I should have ‘phoned: Ian who does the car electrics couldn’t make it today. There’s a bug going round. I’m sorry.’
he hangs out an invisible prompt card that says: Smile and say ‘No bother’
I choose to ignore it: it is a bother.
‘I’d rather not have had to drive in – for nothing.’
‘What more can I do? I’ve apologized – you make mistakes; I make mistakes’.
Perhaps you might convince me that you valued my time as highly as you value your own, Jimmy;
but I don’t say so.
The calf is perkier this morning – near one month old and not sucking from his mother, he was very feeble yesterday.
After a mineral boost, intravenous rehydration and steroids, for goodness’ sake, he is up and about this morning, and when released from the pen, applies himself to some serious but ill-considered grazing: it’s mother’s milk he needs.
I make a change of tacK. I will leave him with an unmilked Moira, and then tube some recovery liquid into him this afternoon.
Who knows what will work – if anything?
This evening, a doe, disturbed from above or mistaking what the breeze is telling her, gallops between me and the Nog in the birches below the crags. He gives chase, but quickly gives up, outclassed.
Some dogs would follow a hopeless chase out of sight.
He knows when to give up-
life is much easier that way.

Animal stories, Farm Life, Living with Nature, Uncategorized, Uvie Farm

Protection – but I can only do so much

Six drakes greet me at the yard. They are here to breed. So far as I can tell there is only one duck.
I saw her this afternoon climb onto my one tonne feed bag. I was standing a few feet away and felt happy that she trusted me enough to steal my food in my presence.
The drakes however are a bother. I came up from an attempt to shift the girls down from the top paddock to join Angus Halfhorn. It’s time for romance – served this month they will calve first thing next year. Cows have the same nine month pregnancy as women.
They go through following feed, but their babies have never used this gate and stick to the paddock. I need them together.
Another day then.
Two drakes are fighting: one holding the other by the neck, trying to force his head under the water. They are evenly matched so no murder today- but any of those six lurking in the yard could try it on the ducklings when they appear. There will be nothing I can do to protect them.
And there’s nothing I can do to protect Moira’s baby from himself. The calf who won’t eat. I can force him down. resist his urge to escape. Hold a teat in his mouth. Even hold his head down with a stockinged foot while standing to hold a drip feed for Gaby the vet.
But I can’t protect him from his life denying delusions.
I need to protect myself from them


Time to choose

I have a gang of four on the pond.
This worries me.
A surplus of mallard drakes is bad news for new ducklings. No sign yet of frenetic fur balls scooting across the water’s surface in pursuit of bread skimmed form the truck window. When they do hatch they will have to brave the umbrage of jealous, but unsuccessful wannabees, as well as predation from stoats, herons, crows and the like.
Some years I judge my personal well-being by the DSI (duckling survival index). Counting them out and counting them back becomes a daily treadmill of hope and trepidation.
These days my emotional state is calibrated by the ACI (anorexic calf index), as it has been for the best part of the last month.
There are four elements required for success, and I can control none of them.
Moira’s baby needs;
* Desire for milk
* Ability to suck
* Tit recognition
-and above all –
* Will to live.

Up to now, he has shown none of these.

His best practised trick is to clamp his teeth on the tit of the bottle so that he stops the flow. This morning he adopted this denial tactic when I stuffed Moira’s front right tit into his face. He has a well- developed set of teeth for pulling at herbage and Moira objects to them applied to her tender parts, bellowing and contorting in the handling crate to bite my backside as I anchor him in place with my body.
I have made a choice.
No more tubing.
I know I can keep him just barely alive by force-feeding but it is a horribly invasive process that must be affecting that most important final element of the list: his willingness.
So it’s now up to him to choose. It’s simple: live or die.
He is unlikely to receive adequate amounts of milk; but it will be his doing.
And today he sucks.
I have a choice of three bottles with different textures of teat to tempt him with. I choose the two litre lemonade bottle with the soft teat – easy to distort, but undemanding – especially spread with honey.
He sucks from the off – and to my amazement, keeps going – determined, persistent and – the biggest change – active – not inert.
Unfortunately the hole is a pinprick and the bottle has no way to refill with air so he must suck it out of shape to bring the milk down. I shuggle it to let tiny bubbles of air into the liquid and it empties – glacially slowly – but discernible.
When we both give up – after half an hour- I find he has taken no more than a pint.
Not enough.
A start maybe?
Only if he chooses.