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

milk from the mother

I am not working alone.
I am with the belay team.
Caroline, Mike and Cathy have come to stay- old friends who blend seamlessly with life on the farm.
The name derives from further work on the borehole pump. I know my repairs have restored function –

but not for long.

The isolator perches precariously above the water that fills the pump housing as a result of my poorly regulated float switch.
In short I have electrical elements in close proximity to a watery element – not a recipe for long term sustainability.
The pump needs withdrawing from the well-
again.
This time though –
I have help.
While I hook the well cover to the hitch on the quad and drive slowly up the field, the rest of the team ease the lines out of the borehole and over the timbers of the enclosure to ensure that the alkythene, power cable and probe line do not entangle with the hawser retaining the pump and motor.
When the cables are refixed – the team then works to lower the pump and its eighty metre tails back into the depths below the herbiage and soil of the farm deep into supporting bedrock.
Hence the belay relay – easing the steel canister in a controlled way into the earth to enable water for use in the roundhouse and bunkhouse.
Earlier we teamed up to strip milk from Moira’s swollen udders – neglected for 36 hours- releasing on both sides simultaneously as a result of extra hands for the work.
No pumping here, no electrical connection,
apart from the age-old grip,

draw

and release

of the hand on the teat,
channelling an ancient goodness
warm from the body of the mother.

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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

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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.
Waiting.

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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.

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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-
and-
strangely-
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.

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Animal stories, farm bunkhouse, Highland cattle, highland landscapes, hillwalking, Living with Nature, Uncategorized, Uvie Farm

Ridge world

Old roads, half hidden, carry ghost traffic up the hill.

Carts hauled by small horses coaxed up the zigzags eased over the years by a stone placed here to support a slope, an incline there dug level. At one point where two drains meet in a small gully at the base of the climb to the ridge, tumbled stones mark the remains of a handbuilt dam protecting a ford where the vehicles might cross. I take a moment to study the contours to check the extent of the lagoon that would be created by such a barrier: but it’s too long gone.
The Nog is waiting above, I turn to follow.
The hill divides as we arrive at the crest where a fence separates sheep pasture from genuine moorland. The Nog finds the low section and jumps over, follows the peat road crossways, runs forward and then halts – winding something.
I come up to the near edge of the plateau to find him intent on the near horizon.

A herd of fifty red deer enjoy the calm of late afternoon. Hinds and calves graze with their heads down in the dead ground below. The breeze at their backs gives them no warning: they are unaware of our presence. The ridge above is lined with stags, mature beasts with full antlers. They have seen us but at this time of the year are not too alarmed – just enough to lift their heads to face us full on. Some are standing, showing the full mass of their powerful bodies silhouetted. Others remain prone, swivelling their necks, heads outlined against the distant snowy slopes of the Monadhliath foothills.

The antlers rise towards the hazy blue of the sky in a symmetrical bow like a prayer: alert ears extend along  horn reinforcing the base of cupped void like petals against a stem.

As I move forward, they gather and turn. Arrived at the position they have abandoned I find them strung out to the far horizon, watching but unconcerned.

The lead stag, a royal, waits down the hil, alone – assessing when to rejoin the herd.

Standing here I have a view round three quarters of the snowfields bounding the horizon. A chill breeze breathes from the north east but the sun is warm mitigated by a storm haze that sends windwracked clouds floating overhead like aquatic mammals.

Down at the farm a small red calf is waiting to be let in to the night pen.

I call in the Nog as I turn to descend.

With luck he ‘ll be able to run further tomorrow.

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Animal stories, Chooks, farm bunkhouse, Farm Life, Highland cattle, Uncategorized, Uvie Farm

Lone Journey

 

A large and lonely bird flies south toward Drumochter pass.

I spied the same angular profile heading the other way midweek; the local paper confirms what I thought at the time. A large bird was spotted at Dalwhinnie struggling to rise from the water of the loch with a fish in its talons:-

the osprey is back.

O – and so is another fisherbird – the oyster catcher – glimpsed from my south windows drifting down towards the river to find grubs and hidden sandy hollows for nesting.

The yard too fills with birds. The chooks are competing with pheasants, mallards, and lots of lively chaffinches whose songs festoon the still bare birch branches.

And I encourage  life in a small calf.

This evening he stands head lowered, unresponsive to the advances of Holly’s bright white heifer – fit enough though to follow his mother up to the yard, and the comfort of the pen they have grown used to overnighting in.

Tonight is different.

Once they are both safely penned, I inveigle Moira through to the shared part of the shed and trap little man behind. She can see him, lie alongside – but he has to fend for himself til morning.

There is just a chance he will do this-

there has been a small change.

Moira waits in the handling crate for me to strip her of this morning’s load. Her little lad is nosing round the yard, including the tub of mineral lick – he sniffs it in his usual dopey way –

and licks! –

and again, lifting his head with sticky mineral goo dripping from his chin.
I set down the tub by me while milking, knowing that curiosity will bring him over, even drop some calf muesli into it. By the time I have finished so has he- the smooth brown surface of the lick is clear of grain.

So tonight he is alone; separate from his mother –
and if he gets hungry-

perhaps for the first time he knows what to do.

 

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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.

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

The newcomer

Al and I arrive back at the Roundhouse to offload the cattle trailer. It is full, not of cattle but of timber cleared from the building site at the Pottery Coffee Shop. We pile it against the granite bedrock rearing out of the ground behind the house. I aim to burn this in the company of friends on a fine evening.
This late afternoon is golden without the fire- undoubtedly the best day of the year, sunny and still.
As we work I become aware that the stotts- the young males- are gathered at the far end of the field, captivated by events out of view. They have been posturing with Angus Halfhorn on the other side of the fence, but this time they are not roaring and Billy is displaying no interest in any male displays.

They gather in a group craning over the fence like boys outside a circus.

I cannot afford to ignore a signal like this: so drop my task and cross the field to join the spectators. In the corner against the wood Angus Halfhorn, Alice and Moira are knotted, mobile, circling – indistinguishable one from another. Moira breaks out from the huddle and, after a moment, I understand the reason for the disturbance. There are four animals here, not three – she has given birth. The newcomer is already active on unsteady legs- a bullcalf as I find out a moment later.
She has a massive bag, the baby is strong, the sky is clear. it will be cold tonight and he may not suck. The frost will form on his infant back, he will curl shivering – but he will live, God willing.

Tomorrow I will find whether I need to intervene for his welfare; for tonight- I will leave it to Moira.

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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.

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