Farm Accommodation, Farm Life, Living with Nature, new birth, Uncategorized, Uvie Farm

Some animals look after themselves

The ailing calf is only alive today because I force milk (and recently minerals) into his stomach. The rest of the herd is just starting to wean itself off dependance on me, the provider. There is a hint of new grwoth in the grass; a foretaste- literally- of summer.
It has been glorious day. I end with a turn up the hill with the Nog, winding round the back of the crag, doffing our virtual cap at Sarah Justina’s monument on the top, and back down again. Over the fence, down the open slope with whitegrass and bog myrtle, turn left into the birches and cross the road back into the farmyard.
I am not on a mission – more of a timeclock. If my sourdough is not to overbake, I have to complete the tour in 40 minutes, back by 25 past.
Simple –

except that a roe doe stands motionless on the brae on watching, poised.

When the Nog takes off in vociferous pursuit, her two calves appear from concealment bouncing away in divergent directions, to reunite later.
The path beside the burn behind the crag leads steeply upwards, bare birch branches outlined against the sky. Two such turn out to be the horns of a pair of billy goats standing on their hind legs, forelegs braced against the trunk.
The Nog takes off and then, after no more than 10 yards, courage failing, noses among the mosses as if looking for mice.
A pair of partridge need pointing and flushing before we can return across the road, the final distraction before rescuing the loaf – 27 minutes past – not bad.
Across the river a herd of forty red deer are grazing contentedly on the new shoots appearing in the wet ground. At a quarter mile distance I can’t pick out individuals, but the ones scampering between different static groups like scouts or couriers – these are the calves.
I enjoy animals where I don’t need to intervene.

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

Ave Caesar

Our routine is set. The smoother the progress; the lower the expectation.

I know I can milk Moira; feed her baby – by tube. Wait for tomorrow – when he’ll be a little feebler.
My hope is for an interruption to the expected flow of events – a quantum shift, a bovine epiphany.

The calf won’t suck, doesn’t recognise the teat, doesn’t respond to milk – now I know he doesn’t respond to solids. I tried – this morning- special calf nuts, good as muesli, mixed with creamy mothers milk and plastered round his muzzle- in his mouth –
he cleans it off..
He’s nosing around his mother’s belly as I work on the first teat – tight to start, thin- until she lets it down and the flow is strong and easy.
This is stupid –
I grab him – push his head under her body open his mouth with my fingers and stuff it with the gushing teat.
He hangs as if crucified.
Back to the shed.
After forcing the milk into him- with the tube- I return to Moira to strip her other teats. He wanders out into the yard, belly filled, donders over – puts his nose to mine.
‘Okay boss – no hard feelings’
Ave Caesar

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Animal stories, Farm Accommodation, Farm Life, Highland cattle, Living with Nature, new birth, Uncategorized, Uvie Farm

Intent

It’s not that he wants to die.
I honestly believe he enjoys being alongside Moira his mum, who has milk enough for three.
His limbs are all present and functioning. His organs appear complete. His eye is clear.
So explain this:
I treat Moira like a dairy cow – allow her time to find her own way in to the pen and down the race to the handling crate because by now she knows to expect relief, followed by release: and the passage between the metal gates is a station towards a desired objective.
She is penned and waiting, he is free; with access to her full udder. His nose is dry – he was sucking the long hairs under her chin wetted from her drinking. He is empty: taking nothing in since the last time I tubed a couple of litres into him 24 hours ago.
So why –
-when I pull on the front teat to spatter fresh milk off the floor of the crate, does he prefer to nuzzle her front?
– when I set warmed milk before him, rub some round his muzzle, does he lick it off, sniff the bowl & walk past?
– when I insert the bottle’s teat in his mouth, does he suck a few times, swallow a little and then jerk free?
Today snowshowers battle with sunshine; but by evening the sun has won.
The babies run round the field infecting their mothers with spring fever so that they too throw up their rear legs and dance like drunken Tories.

All the cattle are out at pasture with their heads down, as if the very intent of grazing would urge the grass to grow.

Just one small world seems intent on returning to winter.

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Animal stories, Farm Accommodation, Farm Life, Highland cattle, Living with Nature, new birth, Uncategorized

Trousers rolled

Margot phones as I leave the shed. I don’t know it’s her, just contort to get to the phone before it rings out. Not so simply done:- half the time I don’t remember which of multiple pockets I have stored it in. Often, as in this case, I have to burrow through layers of outer clothing before even getting close to the noisy little apparatus. I locate it in time to answer her query about hosting a writing group at the farm. To hear more about this exciting prospect I must maintain the dodgy phone signal – I stand without moving in the middle of the farm road, just inside the gate to the A86.
I cannot bend down to pull up my overtrousers rolled down around my knees. I am wearing the first hat to hand – a llama herder type woven helmet with long tassels. I stand frozen in my driveway
– when the council workers pull up to turn in the bellmouth just outside the gate.
I ignore them with dignity.

Moira and her wee lad wish I would ignore them.
When I unite them after overnight separation he heads straight for the udder. It looks like he’s feeding – there are even sucking noises- but not on the teat, Some instinctual signal is not being received. The vet checked for physical deformities and found him fully functional – but perhaps one of the body’s subtle mechanisms is failing, like smell perhaps.
I believe that he will come to understand what the flappy bits under his mother’s rear end are for, and how he claims the bounty hidden there, but for the moment we follow the contrived routine.
Pen both animals, kidnap baby, try the bottle, give up, suspend the bag, insert the tube, remove when bag empty, milk mother into bottle, release both into field.

These are the facts. These mean that Moira is kept free from infection, and her calf lives- another day. It is a routine – but failure in any part means that we might lose him.
Snow falls in fat wet flakes as mother and son trek through the herd.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Farm Life, hillwalking, Living with Nature, Uncategorized, Uvie Farm

Alone on the hill?

There is nothing up the hill behind the farm. Nothing to excite or entertain. No homes, people, vehicles, livestock, few trees.
This time of year the grass is yellow and flat, water lies softening the peat, the heather is dark and low.
Today uniform grey cloud slices the tops from the hills; the wind drives hard across the open hill, snow lies in pockets like hoofmarks, clings in stubborn banks on north faces.
I force myself from the shelter of the farm. The wind hits as I leave the path circling Sarah Justina’s memorial, the last outpost.
I cut straight up the hill to reach the ridge at its lowest point, heading for the high ground, the Nog ambushing me on steeper inclines.
And we’re not alone. A shape slides behind the border of ancient pines as we reach the watershed – and then reveals itself – the outspread arc of a monitoring eagle. The eyrie is back in the trees – perhaps the henbird is sitting in the untidy stack of twigs lodged in a fork. I have seen her before, but this is another bird, smaller, probably male.
I watch the near horizon carefully as the Nog ranges. He is the colour and size of a roe calf: eagles eat roe calves. I call him closer- the dynamic has changed.
We are now the hunted.
I relax as we progress toward the back hills.
The Nog ranges backwards and forwards as generations of his ancestors have done.
I catch up with my father and grandfather- who walked here before me.
Coming back down the hill, we do not return.
We re-enter.

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