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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

High technology shifts haybales

I feed the animals round bales – mostly silage, but hay as well. Hay is grass cut on a sunny day with a drying breeze, and left to dry for several sunny days, and turned over to dry quicker before baling.
I make silage on the farm. Silage does not need sunny days, drying breezes or turning: in the Highlands we tend to make silage, (Though from what people say, the weather was easier in the past). The wet grass is simply wrapped in a long bandage of plastic until all air is exluded, whereupon a gentle process of anaerobic fermentation commences that preserves the grass -for years if need be.
My bales are round –
though they are not round, any more than square bales are square, which are cuboid.
They are in fact compressed cylinders of grass, complete with seed heads, dried flowers, and the occasional unfortunate frog. These cylinders are 4 foot square – well, 4 foot long by 4 foot diameter.
Hay bales are lighter than silage by virtue of their dryness. I am able to transport hay using the quad and trailer, the preferred option when heavy machinery would carve up soft ground.
The bales sit in the shed on end, piled three high behind the pen where Demi-Og and her new baby have been overnighting. I need to roll it to the front of the shed. I must then reverse up to it, braking the trailer so the drawbar hinges and the scorpion tail grab slides over the back of the bale hauling it into the dished metal bogey when I pull forward.
But first I have to dislodge the bale.
Round bales roll easily but sit firmly on their bases. Shifting them involves a kind of sumo bout with lots of gasping and grunting (but without the nappy). If a bale is caught in the open, it can be tackled by pushing against the top and rocking back and forward until the tipping point is reached. If wished, momentum, once achieved may be maintained by a judicious shove at the right moment to keep the bale turning end over end. This is useful on occasion, for instance if the ground is mucky.

Where possible therefore one adopts the easy option of rolling.

That’s a single bale. An artic & trailer carries 72. Before I installed the new shed with the eaves high enough for the JCB, half a load needed stacking inisde – manually. Stack ’em at the door, roll to the back, push and pull to set them neatly, work back towards the entrance, and then load the second layer. Set scaffolding boards across the top, cart them to the door on the pallet forks, flick the bale into the shed and then repeat ground floor process – only more difficult because you can only work on the duckboards.


This work would tax a Rugby Union forward, and for me it was impractical. I used to pressgang hardy, generous souls to assist me. My stepson Daniel Arnold was one: he inadvertantly developed a 3 Stooges comedy routine swinging long boards in confined spaces. Another to bend his back was Rupert Friend, as he said ‘resting’ from acting – surely resting never looked so much like hard work! (He showed no inclination to assassinate anyone either).


This morning, Angus Halfhorn, Alice and massively pregnant Moira,wait in the bottom paddock for a new bale of hay. I must shift it from the shed. It is piled in tight stacks- on end. I can’t rock it to upend it.


I can however use the adjacent stack for leverage, by sliding down a gap. I then set my shoulders against the intended bale, climb my legs up the next one and straighten them. When the bale tilts a bit I walk my legs up to tilt it some more. When I am at full stretch parallel to the ground with my legs straight and the bale still not toppling, I pause- like a mountaineer in a crevice.
If I let go now – all previous effort will be wasted.

Keeping the pressure on my legs, I start to wriggle my shoulders so as to shunt my back lower, and then walk my legs up some more on the opposite bale –
-until it topples. I catch my breath.
Technical business this farming.

Farm Accommodation, farm bunkhouse, Uncategorized

Hiding from the wind

The wind is still blowing tonight – chilling me through my clothes. The new calf has none – just rich red curls.
Highland cattle have two winter coats – the longhaired outer shedding the rain sheltering a tight thermal fleece covering of thick fine hair. The babies won’t grow the longer coat until next winter. They rely on maximum insulation to survive the dangerous early days of life.
The new lad has plenty of character, assisting endurance of early hardships. He is alone in the field when I walk round for my evening inspection- close to the field gate where I have been herding him and Demi Og for special treatment penned cosily under cover. I wonder if his instincts are confirming my intention to cosset him for the first week or two.
I have been cossetting myself today.
After my morning round with no new babies appeared, I head back into the house- and stay there.
My excuse is that I have to complete the changeover from last weekend’s guests; but really I’m hiding from the wind- in the roundhouse accompanied by the woodburner- and the Nog snoring on the sofa.
So I’m ironing – in a vigorous, manly sort of way, of course. Duvet covers, pillowcases, fitted sheets –O those fitted sheets! It’s done though, by lunch – so I have time to make up the bunkhouse before my evening round.
After seeing the little lad back to his mum (he ignored her – another sign of character) – I check up on Moira in the bottom paddock. She is gathered with Angus Halfhorn and Alice in a strange tight triangular clot by the fence- the kind of anomaly that is always worth checking. Cattle are highly inquisitive so their presence at an event or accident will be the first indication of something worth looking into, As it happens there is no drama – but Moira’s obsessive scratching probably means that she is getting ready to shed the living burden that is giving her so much discomfort.
Back at the yard Demi-Og appears around the corner of the shed as I open the gate, and then disappears like a Miss Marple curtain twitcher – she has lost her boy.
I find him before she does –
inside the shed-
-sheltering from the wind.

Farm Accommodation, Farm Life, farm visitors, Highland cattle, hillwalking, Uncategorized

Back and forward to the future

Today the cows are peaceful, the two bull calves are stotting in the sun– and I didn’t walk up the hill with the Nog as intended.
Sunday morning is for housework – fair enough – Sunday afternoon was for walking , skirting by Sarah Justina’s monument standing on the apron of Creag Dhubh, and straight up to the ridge that forms my northern horizon. Beyond there lies the back country.

As one walks, the present day recedes – to be replaced by something immediate.

With one’s back to the farm, the road and the river, one crosses the first waste, where the ‘dry loch’ tells a story of caught glacial water released when the barrier at the lower end gave way, leaving a horseshoe of upland bog.
Down to the old road in Dalbhalloch- now used by hikers and hunters only – ending at the lost village of Dal-na- sealg (Dalnashallach) where one house is maintained as a bothy.
Then further out and up to the Monadhliath plateau – kind to neither man nor beast – the first landmass – and realm of the great god Pan.-
-but I wasn’t there today.
Instead I was facing towards the future.
The two buildings on the farm, roundhouse and bunkhouse, are all electric – with a ground sourced heatpump for heating and hotwater, with the plan to become self-sufficient in power. As technology changes , this closing of the sustainability loop has been getting closer. Most solutions, however, involve laborious administration and big outlays to meet the demands of government incentives.
Zeno and Celine, with a company involved in generating by windpower, put shape to my intentions; confirming the option of self-installation without official intervention or incentive.
A day of progress therefore if not forward motion of the kind the Nog and I enjoy.
Pregnant ladies still need checking over, little Alice and Holly need more hay; Demi-Og and the lad are happy now to donder up to the shed to be shut in for the night..
-and, in the bottom paddock, Moira stands and shifts her weight, patiently preparing to calve- maybe tonight.

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

Early days

There are some sounds that creep up on me, present for a while without insistence. Cockcrow is one of them. Cocky’s trumpeting is an ambient noise that sidles into consciousness. It puzzles me and annoys me some that I am slow in registering this presence.
Another such is today’s hammering of the yaffle. He was working away, probably at an aspen in the hollow across the hayfield, while I was filling the buckets for the morning feed . I was absorbing the sound without acknowledgment. It came into focus suddenly with the realisation of neglect – that somehow I had failed to recognise and welcome this new addition to the farm concert.
As if I had not saluted the first housemartin home.
There are other precious signs of spring, fragile shows monitored and gathered carefully; out of context with the bare birches and the pale sun.
The flags are pushing green through the surface of the pond, now adopted by a pair of mallard, These are Mr & Mrs Duck who appear (not the same pair, but bred from the same) every year to nest on the small island. They are named for their proprietorial waddle round the yard, like holiday-house owners returned from the city. They feel totally at home, launching off the bag of cattle nuts in the barn when I go to bring in Demi-Og and her boy.
The catkins are hanging from the hazels- I never saw them develop – suddenly they are just there, noticed and welcome. Miniature daffs show in sunny corners, faintest of greening on snowberries. Grouse lift from the heather in pairs, a goosander from the wee loch.
Too early yet, too early – croaks the raven from the crags.

I hear you harsh bird- the grass is still flat but the two bull calves are spinning and dancing in expectation of growth.

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

First minutes

Demi Og does not attend the morning feed. Shy, sulking or something else? She stands in the corner by the new gate holding her tail stiffly. Trough filled, greedy horned eaters avoided -I walk down to inspect.
There is a rosy cord stretched behind her – her waters have broken. I open the new gate to the hayfield, and close it behind her. There is less shelter here but she’ll avoid the invasive curiosity of her peers. A foot suddenly protrudes from her rear and recedes – front surely – I do not want to have to turn a bumfirst baby.
I must be quick to feed the others. Holly and Alice fed, cleaned and a bolster of hay rammed into the rack – and down to the stotts- across the field this time – keeping an eye on Demi Og. She walksto the far corner – stops – a nose appears alongside one foot. So it’s facing frontwards – is the other leg forward or back? If the baby is caught on the shoulder it could be tough. I keep my distance – not wanting to push her further.
This is her first time – she was bought four months ago, in calf to a bull of quality, who is throwing big calves. It may be hard on her but if the baby is female it will mean another breeder for the farm’s future.
She drops to ground as I climb the fence to the stotts – electrocuting myself- (I forgot setting a booby trap to deter Billy from invading Angus Halfhorn’s terrain).
As I return on the quad she stands again – the calf is coming. It slides out rolled and packaged like a carpet – the nose has broken the membrane and is clear, but I still open the mouth to pull out anything that will inhibit the first breath.
Which doesn’t come.
The calf is a lifeless lump of matter. I was too late. She was too long.
I massage the slimy little chest – no reaction. I check the little body for injury: none apparent. The head lies flat to the ground, eyes closed; body limp, legs still folded.
I massage again – rocking the body to wake it- the head lolls
– and then arcs backwards to draw a breath.
Half a minute later it is moving its legs, preparing to stand. The cord connecting the two is strong and short – putting pressure on the baby’s stomach. No knife – this once – no knife in my pocket! I tease the cord free from her with my hands.

Demi Og  has been sitting quietly so far but now turns to face this squirming wriggly thing, puts down her head and… roars full in its face, roars as if to sound the world’s end, to summon the dead; roars in shock, rage, astonishment, pain and pride. Little one promptly subsides terrified- rightly so as the mad maternal monster looming above cannot decide whether to lick this thing or pitch it over her horns like a bundle of hay.

Once it is clear that she is not intent on infanticide I can leave them- but the weather intervenes. The open field is strafed by barbs of sleet riding a stiff westerly – baby is still birthwet because Demi is licking in patches- like stamps- not cleaning end to end- and shivering. If  little one moves towards her udder she turns head on – little chance of satisfaction there.
I gun the quad to pick up the trailer, scissors, iodine – throw in some armfuls of hay and head back, parking the trailer to windward and dropping a windbreak of hay. Avoiding the still roaring madmother I snip the overlong cord and spray it brown.  Eventually the calf settles, still shivering. I am released for breakfast.
I take stock only as I enter into the warmth: it’s a boy.