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

Billy passes by

Billy’s last journey is simple to trace.
Not for him quiet retirement under the trees.
He has his place – as master.
First he must cross the field.
He sets his head against the closed gate, hooking his horns under the bottom bar.
The metal buckles but the ropes hold and the hinges are strapped down.
No matter- he knows all the ways round the farm that he has owned contentedly for a decade.
He sashays along the fence seeking access to the wooded hollow.
This gate too is tied: a rope looped round a securely braced corner post.
He brings his horns down on the timber bars of the short ladder at the side, smashing them from the post.
The gap is too small for him to pass through.
His way lies through the marsh.
The wired gate swings open under his weight.
He moves purposefully through the bog created by the blocked drainage channel.
His wide hooves carry his body weight squarely punching pockets in the soft ground that fill at once with water.
Where the land dries again, he skirts the fence bordering the vacant hay pasture.
The gate bulges and gives.
He is now on sweet new grass but his mind is not on grazing.
At last he reaches the paddock with the high fence where his females wander in the company of his son.
Angus stands there, responding to his challenge.
Billy tears at the grass with his front hooves, revealing black dirt that he grinds to paste with the front ridge of his skull, snorting and groaning as he does so.
He lifts his head to the sky.
At his trumpeting, rivals will quail, trees split, the earth will shake and walls tumble.
Mastery is his-
just one more gate.
He is ready
to break through.

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Stilling the trumpets of war

I wake early listening for the trumpets of war.
Peace reigns however: the bulls are not calling each other to duel.
By time I leave the house I have the solution.
It needs done this morning.
I leave the animals to settle after feeding, attending to other tasks.
I have been filling the tanks from the bowser for weeks now: it’s time I reconnected the pump, sealing the electrical connections due to be submerged.
By mid-morning I have these ready to instal, pending assistance to ease the pump and cables down the well without damage.
Time to implement my cattle plan:
to establish a Buffer Republic of yearlings (+ George halfcalf with mother Moira) between dual warring empires; those of Billy my former stock bull and his son Angus Halfhorn who has replaced him with the younger females.
Arriving at the yard I find my newly clear intention has manifested the perfect opportunity.
The cattle in Billy’s group have returned from the woods to the calving paddock –
I will be able to hold them there before shedding the ones I want to.
But it’s better than that –
little George is at the gate, looking through the bars – I open it quietly so as not to alert the others. George exits to join the heifers, Holly and Alice, already loose in the yard. Moira follows on his heels.
And the boys are in the wood – behind the shed, separate from Billy and the pensioners. A rattled food bucket brings them through.
Moira and the heifers skirmish briefly and settle.
The Republic is complete.

stand-off

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New woodlanders

Shadows flit across the screen as the morning light from the window is briefly obscured.

A welcome new swirl of swallows has returned – to join the lonely pair installed for the last three weeks. Chaffinches copulate at the yard. The chucks are joined by these small birds along with rival cock pheasants circling each other warily and secretive mallards.

My thoughts are on bigger things – notably Billy the bull. How to stop him flattening gates and trouncing fences to reach his usurper son running with the younger females on the other side of the small farm?
I have an idea to separate the animals into three groups with the yearlings in the centre of the farm around the house to provide a buffer between the competing breeding groups.
I will include the anomalies in this area – Moira and her errant child George the halfcalf.

Miniature, pot-bellied and dim – he has handicapped himself terribly by refusing the milk in Moira’s swollen teats- but now grazes assiduously. I am afraid at two months he is not ready for a completely grass diet so I want to keep him close – as does his mother, in spite of being snubbed.

Billy is blessedly quiet  behind the gate this morning. His ladies look settled in their new woodland home – Morag and Flora are accompanied by vital, bright-eyed babies.

Moira is not.

Now you see me..

Now you see me..

Where is he? He should be here. Has his perverse determination to survive finally failed?
I spot the russet scrap behind a birch tree – on the wrong side of the fence.
Head down –
grazing-
as if his life depended on it.
It does.

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Billy goes to war

Billy is the heart of the farm.

I have bred from him for a decade: fine, longframed Highland cattle. Generations on damp bundles dropped in damp, snowstrewn fields have turned to robust, curly haired inquisitive calves to questing yearlings and finally the adult, horn-toting splendour of mature showstopping beef animals.
This spring he has provided me with a full crop of perhaps the finest calves ever-
but late.
His back legs struggle to propel him onto the backs of the standing females, so Angus Halfhorn has taken on his duties.
This morning he digs his horns into the feeder, raking through one of my last bales of expensive silage and hurling great gouts over his back to be trampled and spoilt. I rescue what I can, cussing him as I do it; he is not concerned. I tickle his spine, leaning my body into the cavity where his ribs end, resting my chin on his back so as to inhale the musty warmth of his giant body. He drops his head, pinning his ears back against his powerful neck in appreciation.

‘Who is that with the horns at the bottom of the field?’ comments Lynda at the kitchen window, preparing dinner for Sam and Sarah due from London any minute.
‘That’ll be Angus Halfhorn with the girls in the Aspen paddock.’
‘But there are two of them.’

Speed is vital: grab coat & wellies, sprint to the quad, grab a sack of feed, hurtle down the field. The gate to the hayfield is lying flat- he has used his horns to huich it from its hinges.
Billy is already tussling horns with Angie through the net squares of the deer fence separating them – the fence bulges, the wires part. They are bellowing, roaring full in each other’s faces, their heads black with dirt they have gouged from the soil to paint themselves for war.

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I kick Billy’s horns, slap his nose with the feed bag so that he backs off from the fence. He turns and roars at me, while Angie encouraged by this apparent retreat, redoubles his efforts to engage . Billy turns back to the main task. I continue to rattle the bag, needling and distracting him. He takes a handful of nuts in mid bellow but then turns back to the fence.
Something more is required – something bigger.
I gun the quad across the spring grass and jump into the cab of the JCB parked in the yard, rejoining the contestants as quick as I can. Reversing the seven ton machine towards the fence, I turn in my seat to swing the back actor against the big animal. This shifts him- but only sideways: Angie keeps pace on the other side of the wire. When I succeed in ushering him away with the heavy steel bucket, he turns and thunders to his mark. He is now parked under the electricity pole where I decide, after a few apprehensive manouvres, that he is unreachable. I switch off and jump down, turning my attentions to Angie.
If I can just make some space between the the two of them..
I climb the fence with a feed bag. Angie and the spectator cows line the fence at the top of a steep bank: birch and aspen grow sparsely lower down the slope, loose with glacial sand. The females turn as I slide downwards calling them to feed, and follow, lurching and slipping as they race to be first. I head for the first tree to protect me from an inadvertent runaway coming at me horns first, and then the second.
At the bottom I unhitch the gate opening on a small flood-vulnerable paddock with fresh grass. The girls follow through, leaving Angus at the top still bellowing insults at his father. I scramble up, kick his neck to turn him and belt his arse to propel him down the slope. Once started it is easier for him to continue that lunge upwards, and he joins the girls outside the enclosure.
There are now two deerfences to be crossed before jousting can recommence.
This is no obstacle to Billy who can still see his rival below; he starts rooting up the bottom of the fence.
I clobber him with the feed bag, lure him briefly aside with handfuls of feed – he turns back to the task.
I look round. The deficiency in my farm planning is exposed. From this elevation there is nowhere to hide the animals from each other. If I try to lead the others away, it will mean leaving the protection of the high fence, and a stock fence will be easy meat to either of the beefy contestants.
Wack his head, feed him nuts, back to the fence, wack his head…. If only he would tire!
Finally I lure him a few metres outward and bring the digger in behind, nudging him through the gate and into the silage field. He gallops to the far end, I give chase at full throttle, the old machine rattling and shaking with the effort and just intercept him as he slows before the stock fence, turning him towards the top gate and onto the road – in the hope of taking him up to the yard.
He turns downhill.
I charge past him on the machine and swing the bucket to halt his progress, he stampedes downhill towards a wicket gate leading to Logan’s meadow adjacent to the other animals. I must get there first. I speed down to the bend, swing wide to turn on the brae above the kitchen garden and fly down the road to the gate, arriving as he does. I skid to stillness, and jump down as he starts to lift the light gate on his horns.
I kick his horns away from the bars, yelling myself hoarse to distract him.
A pink shirted figure ambles down the hill:
‘All well?’
Sam has arrived, after an eight hour car journey he has collected a bag of feed from the yard to restock my supply. Finally Billy succumbs to the lure, and follows my food call back up the road to rejoin his elderly cows.
I close the gate, rehanging it.
‘Do that again darling man-
and I will shoot you.’
I am not joking.

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

I prepared the field last night, hauling the chain harrow to spread dung and molehills.
This morning is perfect for rolling.

A heavy mist covers the house allowing a luminous glow through the windows-

assurance of a cloudless sky.

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There has been no rain overnight, but the grass is so heavy with moisture it splashes on my face as I trundle the lines back and forward across the field, deep green

then silvery

then green again.

The mist lifts as I progress, revealing sunshine on the upper part of Creag Dubh,

its lower slopes still veiled as if for modesty.

By the time I finish my skin is chilled,

the smell of crushed grass fills my nostrils;

small rainbows hide in thinning vapour.

The day is opening.

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Rolling lines

The day starts fine and the grass is wet.
Time to roll the fields while the dew is thick
telling the lines.
This is perfect spring weather
bringing on the grass for summer grazing
and winter store.
The calves are suckled well
and I can turn my mind to chores
fresh as the morning.
I do what I can in simple well-tried ways
to show willing at the season’s wheel,
hauling the water filled roller
four times round the field
before stitching lines up and down
as straight as I can
as if someone was watching.
Breakfast will taste better
for trying.

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Animal stories, Farm Accommodation, Farm Life, Highland cattle, Living with Nature, new birth, today's story, Uncategorized, Uvie Farm

Mad for life

Close to a week ago now I heard a great bellow
as I ladled feed
one wet morning.
Flora, my best cow with a great spread of horns and hanging belly
has calved with no trouble
The baby is tall
so cannot find the swollen teats her mother proffers
like munitions.
I bring them in
avoiding Flora’s flailing horns clanging against the metal,
milk her and feed the baby:
2 litres of yellow firstmilk-
she will not sleep hungry in the open field.
Flatflanked next night she takes another bottle
but is not done-
sucking against the metal my arm waterproofs.
staggers into the yard
milk mad berserker
If a pack of wild dogs stood in the way
of milk
she would challenge for leadership.
I guide her to Flora in the crate
breaking the year’s seal on each tit in turn

before offering it over my forearm

like claret.

milkmad baby

This one will do, I think,
looking round at the winter deep muck
greening with algae,
as she pulls the swollen cone
to a flaccid hanging scrap.
This will do.

 

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Guarding the gate

A couple of days ago
my internet went dark
so I could not shout
about things I saw.

I watched a rabbit
dive into a pipe that led nowhere                                                                                        when I dug it in                                                                                                                        to carry rain from the shed roof.

Makes me wonder about apartments, cities even                                                                                         constructed underground

So it is no surprise today
that I see the Nog
standing guard at the entrance

Imageto hidden worlds

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Stranded Angels

I have a Christmas whirligig on the woodburning stove,
Rising heat spins a bracelet of angels, baubles, wrapped gifts when the stove is lit.
A sunny day sends shards of light racing around the walls of the roundhouse as if in search of corners.
It rained last night refreshing young grass but bringing a chill to my morning round.
I light the stove to bring warmth and cheer to the interior
while planning the day.
The angels above remain
motionless
though I sense the heat on my cheek.
A single strand of cobweb anchors them to the stand,
earthing them.
I should clean my house.

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