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.


Chooks, Farm Life, Highland cattle, Uncategorized, Uvie Farm

I will lift mine eyes -(given half a chance..)

Today I have the specific to observe-

-and the general.
Specifically, I am keeping a close eye on Moira’s new baby. Strong and well-set, he won’t stay that way for long if he doesn’t make use of his mother’s swollen udder.
And that’s part of the problem – she is so big that her teats are almost touching the ground: they are certainly dragging in the mud around the feeder. So they not only stick out rigidly from the bag like the spikes on a beached mine,
-but they are covered in unsavoury clart.
I move her up from the bottom field, walking quietly behind the pair in the sunshine. Where she goes, he follows- so I just guide her gently up the slope away from the paddock, through the stott’s field, and up the road to the yard. I am impressed as usual by the stamina of the newborn – this is a massive trek for something tiny and new.
I hurry him through the gates into the handling crate and then duck out of it pushing him ahead knowing that she will be chasing after me. Once she is locked in I squeeze down some milk for each teat, it comes easily – but the boy won’t take it.
Sometimes instinct just isn’t enough. I close them in the calving pen for the night, he sucks gleefully
– on her tail.
More work for the morning- unless the confined space of the pen concentrates their minds.
So much for the specific-

-there is also the general –
– all-round observation, checking the sky-
-which is clear.
All day.

Animal stories, Chooks, Farm Life, heroic ambition, Living with Nature, today's story, Uncategorized

Working is for the birds

A light rain falls as I convert some of my timber stack to firewood using the chainsaw. A choice must be made- these are sawn boards, and seasoned for years in the lean-to, in case I am called to use it to make furniture. There is ash there, local pine, larch, beech, sycamore,oak, chestnut, walnut – all fit to be machined and worked, but none of it used in the last twenty years – so why keep it?


Firewood has a real value, not potential. I guage the value of my segmented timber stock in hours of burning – this board gives me an hour, two hours; this pile gives me a day, a week, longer. Horizons come closer in winter: this mild spell will end, and now I have stored some insurance like racking potatoes.

As I swing the bellowing saw, a tiny finch works alongside, also laying down reserves against winter extremes. The lesser redpolls have been active in the birches for some weeks now, settling in sudden showers among the purplish twigs waving at the branches’ extremities. They strip out the residues of nutritous seeds with rapid agility. This little bird is working alone, out of context in more ways than one, nipping not at the seed source but at the deposits on the black plastic wrapping my silage. Its head has a blush of russet, a cape of yellow descends its neck,  its wings carry dark brown flecks like grains. It is focussed on its task and observant but oblivious of my operations-
-unlike the robin.
My companion ghost appears at the far side of the finch, perched on the roadside gatepost. The robin has no work, he has authority. He is a beadle, hands clasped behind his tailcoat, observing the industry of the deserving poor (me and the finch, that is) while pretending to watch the road traffic.

By 4 o’clock the timber for warmth is cut and the timber for making is stored; but someone is working harder than ever. Cocky disappeared into the lonely chooky house earlier, but now, as I prepare to lock him in, he returns to the open. He has his gaze fixed on the roof timbers where his ladies have all learned to roost, leaving him earthbound. Not for much longer, his body language says.
His posture is rigid, his neck points forward and upward like a brandished cavalry sword. He braces himself… and launches.

He gains an elevation of a full eighteen inches- (His ladies manage fifteen foot to the tie beam in three stages)- and holds fast. Sadly, his perch is a fence post that, being cylindrical, rolls backwards and forwards as he struggles for equilibrium like a logger on a Canadian river. His efforts, plainly incompetent, alert the predatory instincts of the Nog who I oblige to sit. Cocky is eventually dislodged, but remaining totally focussed on his task, stalks forward for his next attempt completely unaware of his proximity to the motionless Nog, who salivates silently.

He is attached to the deluded intent that he can fly directly up to the tie beams without following the pattern established by the womenfolk. I leave while he is still working on the problem, and return later to shut the chooky house on the assumption that he failed, and is sulking within like great Achilles.

I reckon his power to weight ratio is against him – or maybe brain to muscle. Ambition for change came late – but for all that it looks like it’s here to stay.
We are all fighting our battles on windy plains before locked cities.

We are all mighty.

Chooks, Farm Life, Highland cattle, Uvie Farm

Snow start

The glimmer outside the window gives the game away before daylight – snow on the ground. Last night was moonlit – sufficient to load a silage bale without lights. A clear night therefore- but still remarkably mild – I am outside hatless and barely in need of gloves (a good thing as I am susceptible to frostbite in the finger tip that I sliced on the planer like bacon). The square light in the new shed itself reveals slowly, shedding a warm orange radiance across the snowy yard and the shadowy beasts gathered at the feeder.
Ali appears after I have dealt with the little girls and the chooks in the other shed. I feel obscurely ashamed that the only chook needing attention is Cocky ie male, his female companions having learned to roost in the roof.
She is kind enough to make no comment.
The animals outside still need fed, so she parks herself on the rear carrier as the Nog and I head down the hill as usual.
We follow well-worn pathways, but perspectives change slightly through sharing. Farm routines develop in stratified layers of improvisation. So, some tiny innovation, maybe opening a gate one way rather than another, becomes a platform for a new set of outcomes, modest indeed but tending towards economy.
Cosmos Uvie evolves unnoticed- except when presented to someone new, who both assays the system and may add to it. Last time Ali farm-sat, she hooked a feed pallet to a hurdle for use as a hayrack – still in use.
Our understanding of a tiny world grows microscopically.
The snow is still falling, but water will soon flow beneath it down granite ribs.

Animal stories, Chooks, Farm Life, Highland cattle, Uvie Farm

Who’s running this place – me or the Nog?

It is mild, near 10 degrees, but with wind and rain I worry about Holly giving birth on the exposed Apron. I need to bring her and Billy (can’t leave him behind without any womenfolk- he’ll damage himself trying to jump fences, damage the fences in fact) up to the yard. The current pens are not large enough to house the extra residents, so I spend the day clearing space and extending the area housing Abbie and her baby. I release them: the new arrival prods tentatively at the mushy soil like a paddling pensioner, and then stotts off into wider space with his tail up. I haven’t seen him since: Abbie has hidden him among the rocks and birches.
The Nog is my companion in this work.
Routine 1 – Nog the poultry predator
The chookies are behind the pen with Holly and Alice. I clean it each morning, refill the hay rack, spread nuts for the girls and corn for the chooks. The Nog is stalking the chooks ‘Leave them alone!’ – he knows it’s wrong but as soon as my back is turned he slinks back along the metal rails – intent, dangerous. If cocky is still shut in the house, he squats with his muzzle pointed like a howitzer at the air grille.
Routine 2 – Nog and the quad
I run the quad up to the yard each morning from the garage. The Nog waits for me to leave and then races across country like a Western badhat to ambush me at the junction. He trots down to the Apron and Aspens, but on the return leg he insists on a ride – launching onto the seat with a flurry of farm mud. Leaving the Apron, I close the gate behind the stotts and he knows he has to run now – for his life- belting back down the road, round the bend, I follow as fast as I dare, and up the slope to the garage once more – ‘I’m catching you, I’m after you – I’ll run you down’ – he gallops furiously ahead of me ears flapping wildly.
Routine 3 – Digger Nog
He loves watching the business of the JCB, being a part of its grunts, rattles and heaves. He has learned to clamber up the back wheel onto the 4ft high cab platform to join me- but only from the left side. The other side is complicated with the levers so he won’t attempt it. Trouble is – he will sometimes cross under the machine risking being pancaked. I start out of the shed very carefully, wait as soon as I am clear for the fourlegged passenger at the bus stop who launches himself upwards as soon as I open the door and heads to the rear of the vehicle with a self satisfied shake of his metaphorical brolly.
Routine 4 – Nog and the sofa
His favourite – enough said.

Chooks, Highland cattle, Timber building, Uvie Farm

Lifting at the limit

The thicknesser has been sitting in the middle of the workshop for 20 years – solid, scuffed, dirty green , immobile,- the dependable heart of my joinery – now it’s time to shift it. I reckon it weighs 3/4 ton: the forklift I’ve hired has a capacity of 750kgs – funny that. When I lift it, the rear wheels rise from the floor – it steers with the rear wheels: I’m fine so long as I travel in straight lines- not much good in the tight spaces of the workshop. I persevere though and drop it on the trailer- finally -after scrapes, wobbles and slides – but we’re struggling to get any further with the truck wheels spinning in deep slush. I woke early to that uncanny quiet that comes with a blanket of snow – 5 inches in this case, built up without wind so small branches and even the handrail of the bridge balance a perfect cake slice of snow. Away to Inverness for cattle feed and back for lunch, feeling guilty about being unproductive I head down to the workshop to continue clearing it. Darkness is falling but with Jake’s help , and with the machine trembling on the forks – I decide to go for it. Gunning the engine, spinning the tyres and nudging with the forklift, we nurse the loaded trailer up the hill to the black tarmac and back to the farm. That was a task hard achieved but there’s other successes to relish. One of the new Maran hens has been reluctant to follow her companions to be shut into the chicken house, perching on the bars above the hay rack. Tonight finds her sitting in the roof with the older chooks looking fat and  smug at a new task mastered. And there’s Alice down in the Aspens with Angus Halfhorn: flighty, fearful Alice, who turns from the hay, extends her neck towards my face and noses me with her breath. She doesn’t even shake her horns afterwards the way the others often do as if to warn me not to take further liberties. New behaviour learned, and a gesture of trust. Success comes in many forms.