Farm Life, farm visitors, Uncategorized, Uvie Farm

Night supply

The water in the taps failed at 11.30pm-
after the movie and a couple of drams.
It is Friday after all.
So the guests have no water either.
Outside the sky is clear – but dark.
The quad is out of power – I have no way to bring new water down to the tanks unless I can start it manually.
I don’t remember if it is a kick or pullstart- or where it is.
I prise loose a couple of panels in the torchbeam – it is a pull.
The bowser was left by the tanks; I ride round making as little noise as possible in case I wake sleepers.
The tanks are full- must be electrical. My temporary seal on the pump connections has failed, I guess.
I knock the trip to the pump down and look for the breaker that has tripped. Must be in the garage – but the door won’t open with the power down.
I sneak in via the bunkhouse door – flip the breaker. The pump is whirring in the basement when I return, filling the pressure vessel that supplies the buildings.
Enough to keep the water on for the time being.
I will have to pull the pump from the borehole to make the connections waterproof.
But for now –
sufficient unto the day is the effort thereof.
In short-
though I must fill the tanks tomorrow by bowser-
I can sleep the while.

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Animal stories, Farm Life, farm visitors, Living with Nature, Uncategorized, wildlife

Bird in the box

Today the halfcalf finds his own way inside the shed.
It doesn’t mean that he will co-operate in taking milk on board-
but it is affirmation of a kind.

He and mother have learned to expect a tub of concentrate at bedtime.
I split this – so that he is able to feed alongside Moira rather than competing with her
and getting his head jammed in the bucket when she lowers hers.

The tubs are empty mineral lick containers- roughly 18″ by 12″ by 8″ deep. Both are upside down – this is not uncommon as the animals kick them over on leaving the pen.
Any feed left inside will be polished off by chickens and wild birds, tipping the lightweight container to reach the contents.

I upend the first tub – a feathered brown firework explodes in a manic blur that shoots across the yard and into the sky. A hen pheasant had managed to tip the bucket over, trapping herself.
It is so extraordinary and unexpected that I don’t have time to be surprised or shocked;  just carry on with the chores.
I tip the second one upright.

A female mallard makes her escape.

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Animal stories, Farm Accommodation, Farm Life, farm visitors, Highland cattle, Living with Nature, Uncategorized, Uvie Farm, wildlife

against the wind

The guests have nearly emptied the tanks that I have to fill manually.
I work to diagnose the failure of the borehole pump- a blown capacitor may be evidence of a faulty motor –

or a faulty capacitor.

This is the second day I have worked at this –
costing me time.
It is the second month
I have worked to safeguard the life of Moira’s halfcalf-
costing me time and vet’s fees.
As I return to prepare the milk-
three herons fly over the farm road-
ungainly
in a stiff headwind.

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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 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.

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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 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.

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

Dirty work this cleaning

Clean clean – I’m cleaning the bunkhouse. A surprise group of guests are coming for a weekend of winter hiking. The place needs prepared. All morning is spent indoors while the snow is whistled up by the wind in the eaves. Start with the bathrooms- don’t skimp on the toilets – no trace of previous occupancy. Wash basins,shower, sweep the place out – fresh towels – and onto the bedrooms: family room and two sleeping lofts. Sweep first, clear any used bedlinen- make up the beds from folded linen from the cupboard at the end of the bathroom. Fold the corners of the duvets back as the final invitation. Hoover the lounge, after sweeping crumbs and dust to the floor.
Stair carpet swept down to the tiles in the kitchen. Sweep mud carried in from boots, food scraps down to the entrance door. Clean round the corners on hands and knees, empty recycling bins, stack crockery from the drainer. Make sure the sets of china and glass are complete in the cupboards.
Finish the tiles with the steam cleaner, working backwards towards the end of the long flex run from the garage and then out the garage door so I don’t tread over the damp tiles.
Lights on in welcome – job done. The house will belong to the guests for the weekend, but I’ve given the best start, first impressions must be good and then they will relax into the spaces as the weekend progresses, breaking down habitual spatial jealousies.
And now a different kind of service, a bale to the cattle.
It is sleeting, wet snow driven on the wind. I need to prepare: warmth first, raingear next. My ovetrousers are pulled over jeans, rolled over the top of boots shedding the rain. Both boots and trousers are covered in muck from the morning’s chores. Up to the yard on the quad, pick up a bale on the scorpion tail bogey and down to the sodden pasture where Angus Halfhorn and the girls are standimg on the drier ground. The gate is poached and guttery with deep mud. I have to reverse the machine up to the feeder – the trailer, weighed down with the haybale, skids in the slime and turns too far. Try again. A different line and more throttle sends muck spinning into the damp air but the bale is now jammed up against the metal of the feeder.
Using the JCB I could drop the bale into the feeder from above but it is too wet and soft for the seven ton machine so I use the quad this time, which means upending the feeder. The weight of metal tests me close to the limit on every occasion but at least it’s not cemented to the mud with frost. Tip my fingers into the mire at the bottom of the metal ring and lift to stand it on its side. The bale is levered into the dish where the old silage, black and rank, has been pulled to the side, to sit neatly as I drop the ring over the hay. Squelching back onboard the quad I open the gate to let the cattle feed.
Quad parked in the garage, trailer unhitched and parked, I’m back indoors. My boots and clothes are wet, dirty and smelling of dung.
The cattle don’t mind – the bunkhouse guests might!

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Animal stories, Farm Life, farm visitors, Highland cattle, Living with Nature, Uncategorized, Uvie Farm

Fuel enough for today

Colder this morning, a bale to put out- and the digger doesn’t start, The battery is old, the glow plug doesn’t work- but the old machine normally fires up after a recharge and some fast start like a pensioner on prozak. Today the engine hunts and dies. I realise how dependant I am and in turn how dependant the cattle are on me to resolve this failure.
More juice, and some fresh diesel livening the tank: the machine shakes itself and offers to work – thankfully I can satisfy the bellowing stotts- this time.
Billy, my beloved bull is old too. The calves are late, perhaps he missed some cows this year with the muscles in his weakening rear legs no longer able to lift his weight to mount the willing females. I see him alone in the calving pen: as usual he comes close and bends his giant neck to the side in invitation- which I accept, climbing over the gate and taking time to scratch him leaning my body into the hollow of his flank.
Down in the bottom pasture, Angus Halfhorn waits with his two young cows, both heavy and healthy with calf. They are gathered at the far end of the field. I open the gate above and when I ride down on the quad, they canter parallel to me, unhurried and graceful. The long copper hair of Angie’s coat shakes as he runs, matching me for speed. They proceed to the trough ahead of me and wait for me in expectation.
All quiet, all in order – they are satisfied. I have not disappointed. The machine has fuel for today,

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