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 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

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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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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, 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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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.
There
is
not
a
single
cloud.

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