farm bunkhouse, Uncategorized

Swinging a gate

I return to the bowser a quarter hour after starting the fill.
I have not found time to diagnose the fault with my borehole pump
so I am still bound to fill the water tanks under the house
from the cattle’s water pulled from my first well
tankered round with the quad several times a day.
If the bunkhouse is full I struggle to keep pace.
The tap is by my last bag of cattle nuts from the winter stocks,
I’ll need it on occasion to pull the cattle into the yard for dosing, inspection, weaning and so on.
Since the two yearling stotts are loose round the farm,
not contained like the mothering cows
apart from Moira who with George belong in this middle zone,
the gate needs closed.
Sometimes I forget
to find a rubbed channel on the fabric of the tote bag
where an animal has head-downed to fullness.
The gate is folded back against the fence
needing swung one eighty.
I stand at the post and pull to start the arc,
hold the top bar and lean back with my full weight.
I take the strain on my right foot swinging my left
out and back for counterbalance like the backactor on the JCB.
The pull of my straightened arm tautens the flesh of my oxter,
until the gate starts, slowly and then more rapidly
until I can shift my grip and the metal swings easily into place
like a haltered animal.
I call my father to mind
without knowing why-
unless swinging a gate
is a childlike thing.

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


The birches vanish progressively
as the plastic is pinned to the inside of the studwork
nominal walls til now,
skeletal rectangles allowing light and wind.

Plasterboard starts to define the interior space

where owls perched and pelleted the rough screed floor
now tiled.
Around the house the birds swoop and soar ceaselessly,
the martens spilling wind, pulling their wings back                                                 to flutter briefly in stasis

as they pluck insects from the new hatch
while  swallows wheel in the higher air.
I wait in the doorless portal
knowing evening warmth and calm
and the busiest time of opportunity,
the cattle grazing as if at harvest.
The hills are softened in vapour
and mottled with shade
from cloud teased by distant winds
blowing seagulls in from the east.
Young lambs on the hill
demand to suck:
their calls enter the new room
claiming it.


farm bunkhouse, highland landscapes, Living with Nature, Uncategorized

Yellow flowers follow flows

Yellow is being worn today.
Slow draining rivulets along the margins of the farm sport finery.
Peaty and filled with black mud that has clarted my boots many times on my way up the hill, these semi stagnant waterways obstruct hard paths around the farm.

I think sometimes there must have been stone bridges- there are old roads after all, winding their way around and between the townships that dotted the drier slopes above the river’s floodplain.
Today’s road shortcircuits the connecting loops that wander between habitations – at walking pace, at cart pace. The routes describe the journeys, mostly short and where longer, diversionary, topographic – one had to keep one’s boots dry after all.

The new road is far from arrow straight; the cliffs of Creag Dhubh are as unyielding as ever, the low ground as liable to flood as at any time, but the cars fly past on their way to somewhere else.
Watching them as I walk parallel to the road, I am looking not just from these woods separated by a few metres from the facilitating ribbon, but from an old time as if through an opening in a rotting stump.

Here hanged felons swing beside the highway as a warning,

and kingcups blaze above the slow movement of dark water.

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

Spring into summer

George Halfcalf gets himself stuck behind the fence separating Logan’s meadow, where the main herd luxuriates in the new grass, from the coarse whitegrass and rashes of the wee lochain, beloved of waterfowl.
Winter is over now- not because the leaves are on the trees (apart from the aspens, still gaunt and grey), but because I no longer start the day with a feed-round.
The year does not divide into separate apartments though; I do not step through the door of spring into the renewed world. It moves like a travellator at an airport. After staggering through the dark and cold, lugging baggage, I suddenly step onto a moving belt surging towards the departure gate, blinking and off-balance.                                                                          The martens work in squads,                                        the swallows in pairs,

and I work alone –                                                                  all of us building, relishing the damp warmth lifting vapour from the burgeoning growth at ground level. The birds collect mud from puddles: I collect plasterboard from Inverness.

The birds pick dry moss off the rocks: I buy packs of rockwool. I’m halfway home with the  loaded cattle  trailer before I realise I left them behind.

We all move forward; no-one must be left behind.
George wobbles through the gate, setting out across the lengthening grass.



Water, water everywhere – not always where it should be

It’s raining this morning-
seven wild mallard join the chooks at feeding
the pond is filling
the grass refreshed-
and I’m running out of water.
The borehole pump is waiting to be seen to
so I fill the tanks from the farm tap
tankering the water with a bowser pulled behind the quad.
The farm well only fills one tank at a time before drying up
I carted a load last night but
to cope with this morning’s
showers,washing, toilet flushes
I dispense with my Sunday lie-in
rising earlier than usual
exiting into the rain
clad only in my boiler suit-
I’d use my dressing gown if it was waterproof.
The hose shoogles loose on the road
gushing water to waste in the puddles.
I jump franticly from the machine as it rolls back
to recover the trailing pipe
as if the spilled liquid
was something precious.

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

Did Garbo lie in the grass?

I have two days to renew my electricity contract.
If not my friendly supplier will continue to supply me-
at five times the cost.
A pine marten would, I suppose,
display no less rank predatory opportunism
among my hens.
As I complete the task I notice Holly
lying alone: atypical behaviour triggering a latent alarm.
She watched me head-up this morning as I rode the quad to the yard.
She was watching still at my return.
I put it down to a quest for morning feed,
now discontinued.
I kick myself for ignoring a possible signal-
where is her beautiful white heifer calf?
When animals suffer
or die
any stockman takes it on themselves.
Two months ago I saved Demi-Og’s baby by the merest chance,
a matter of seconds,
sometimes I fail.
Season before last Holly’s calf died
for no reason.
I saw her first thing,
by lunch she had stretched out
and expired as I pumelled and exhorted
in the exact same damp spot that April’s newborn had passed
a month earlier.
I will never permit an animal to calve there again-
just in case they are called to follow..

Dear Holly – not again-
I run from the office, coat and boots collected,
run to the field-
please No!

The calf, big and white, is easily spotted over the brow,
picking at tufts on the ledges of the rabbit warren.
Relieved, I tickle Holly as she lies in the grass.
Angus Halfhorn, as fickle as any harem master should be,
has forgotten yesterday’s dalliance with Moira:
Demi Og is today’s sweetheart.