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.

 

Standard
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.

Standard
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.

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

Keeping the peace

The birches at the bottom are greening with tiny knobs of curled leaf: higher up the farm road they are skeletal still. The climb up the burnside after the Nog remains unadorned – though I almost know that it will change soon.
Yesterday the animals paraded through the open gate – then required shedding to their new homes: the younger cows to join Angus Halfhorn for his first season as stud bull.
I am concerned that, at three days old, it is early for Alice’s calf to cope with a sudden influx of older animals: but the opportunity to shift the animals has to be taken.
My choice: their time.
Single handed on the farm I have to work their way to do things my way.
The old bull,my darling Bill, has spent the day sitting by the fence looking down to where his son Angus  partners cows that were with him last year. He is still there when I down last thing after my hill climb with the Nog. Alice’s baby is running in joyful circles with the other, larger calves.
She is fearless-
unlike her mother who, forgetting her cracked hooves, chases after her like a clumsy shadow.
Billy is now standing at the fence above, roaring, raking the ground with hoof and horn. Angus responds to the challenge. There are still two fences between them-
but as I watch Billy uproots a line of three posts and the connecting wires.
Angus is roaring his challenge from below. I chase him back to the girls: he flounces down the hill kicking his heels.
Billy is still knocking hell out of my fence; he has created a gap large enough to get through if he wants.
I reprimand him.
I hit him with a stick.
I spot a feed bag caught on the fence. He turns as I pick it up and follows me across the hayfield back to the calving paddock, where I close him in after rewarding him.
Staying there depends on him – a fence, a gate is mere suggestion.
Co-operation is best-

after all he’s bigger than me.

 

Standard
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.

Standard
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.

Standard
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.

Standard
Animal stories, Farm Life, Living with Nature, Uncategorized, Uvie Farm

Protection – but I can only do so much

Six drakes greet me at the yard. They are here to breed. So far as I can tell there is only one duck.
I saw her this afternoon climb onto my one tonne feed bag. I was standing a few feet away and felt happy that she trusted me enough to steal my food in my presence.
The drakes however are a bother. I came up from an attempt to shift the girls down from the top paddock to join Angus Halfhorn. It’s time for romance – served this month they will calve first thing next year. Cows have the same nine month pregnancy as women.
They go through following feed, but their babies have never used this gate and stick to the paddock. I need them together.
Another day then.
Two drakes are fighting: one holding the other by the neck, trying to force his head under the water. They are evenly matched so no murder today- but any of those six lurking in the yard could try it on the ducklings when they appear. There will be nothing I can do to protect them.
And there’s nothing I can do to protect Moira’s baby from himself. The calf who won’t eat. I can force him down. resist his urge to escape. Hold a teat in his mouth. Even hold his head down with a stockinged foot while standing to hold a drip feed for Gaby the vet.
But I can’t protect him from his life denying delusions.
I need to protect myself from them

Standard
hillwalking, History of the Highlands, Living with Nature, Uncategorized, wildlife

Soaring- with an eagle even.

None of us is wholly attached to this earth.
This is true of humans too.
Moira’s baby is barely resident on this plane – a half calf.
The old folks, especially the women gathered by the flanks of the milk cows every morning, would tell stories of milk supped by fairies at night.
Moira is losing no milk this way, but the lad still part resides in the palaces under the hill, where the night is spent dancing and spinning, where he is free to soar and where to breathe is to eat, so rich the air.
All that retains him here is the russet mass of his lumbering mother, and a strange bare forked animal that throws him to the ground to invade his mouth, holds him tight while half suffocating him with a tube in his throat, and locks him to the earth with the shackles of his will.
Passing by the field later on the quad, I see Billy on his feet. The little lad is transfixed by this gigantic apparition (his father), staring stock still, as if in disbelief that this might be his adult pattern. Billy sheepishly shakes his head and looks away.

It is Sunday: I have promised the Nog a longer walk.

We cross the road from the farm and work our way up though the old quarry, the birches loud with the memory of descending slipes, horsedrawn sledges used to cart granite block down to the road.
At the top of the burnside path, I catch up to the shadows of peat carts, hook my stick to a backboard as they wind slowly up the hill road and then cut across country to the spot where Nog and I surprised the deer last night.
We move out across the plateau, leaving the old drowned cuttings behind: picking up the ghosts of my father and grandfather who walked this same ground.

We cross to the far edge where the ground drops away before rising again to the arctic waste of the Monadhliath range, still heavy with snow.
The mountains are grouped around the Dalbhallach flats as if encicling a lagoon, an inundated crater. They are roundtopped; the connecting valleys swag like fabric, swathing the hills as if storing furniture. In spite of the upflift to the view of the mountains, I have a strong sense that to progress into this wilderness is to plunge, not rise.

I watch the hills across the valley, my eyes climbing the air towards them as I approach the lip. Before the ground falls away, perhaps disturbed by my approach, from a vantage directly in front but below me, and as if carrying my volition, the outspread wings of the eagle launch the giant bird effortlessly outward from the face. Within seconds she is slowly spooling arcs in the still air at the centre of the cooling lagoon.

‘Oh My..’
The sound of my voice breaks the stillness, unbidden.

Words surface in my memory:
‘Come to the edge!’
‘I cannot. It is too steep.’
‘Come to the edge!’
‘I am scared. I will fall.’
‘COME TO THE EDGE!’
So he came-
and he fell-
and he flew.

 

Standard
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.

Standard