Animal stories, Highland cattle, Uncategorized

George the Mighty

monarch_george[1]

MONARCH of the GLEN

George Halfcalf loves his mothers feed

and hates his mother’s milk.

He is stronger-

he walks in a straight line

without  wobbling

as if punchy

 

Tonight he kicked his heels in the air

– he-kicked- up- his – heels

At last he has energy to spare for exuberance

(It has the added benefit of dislodging a large dungplug from under his tail)

I still add a litre of his mother’s frothing milk

to his inappropriate diet.

Between us

we are winning

but the daily session with the bottle

is a penance

for both of us.

Image

Standard
Animal stories, Farm Life, Highland cattle, Uncategorized

Babies have the longest road

Little Jess is delighted: the ducklings have hatched.
Mother duck is sitting still. There are eggs under her and three ducklings poking out from under her downy breastfeathers.
The long grass and stems on the island have been flattened by frost and rain, so the female mallard has no cover apart from her colouring that blends with the wintry vegetation.

She attempts to look like rock.

Once the rest of her eggs have hatched: her frenetic soot balls will find their true element on the water, and safety from predators.
For now she must sit- and wait –
while Jess and I hope for a good morning.

There is another young survivor on the farm road this evening –
Moira’s half calf, a quasi autonomous republic,
population of one
or even
one half
who watches his mother up to the yard to be fed and penned
and stays cropping the sweet grass at the base of the birches
for a good hour
before shambling
up to the bucket of nuts I had placed there for him.

Image

With just a litre of mother’s milk coaxed down his reluctant gullet,
he has made it up the road
thus far.

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
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.

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 Accommodation, Highland cattle, Uncategorized, Uvie Farm

Market day – barely.

Market day today – broken sleep guarranteed. I dream of missing holiday flights – in fact missing holiday airport.
The routine needs reversing so Moira and the boy get dealt with before the other animals get fed. It takes too long, but finally they are out to the field and I can bring the boys up to the yard and select the three to take, shedding the younger ones.
Back down to pick up the trailer.
It’s not there.
It’s been stolen.
Phone the mart, the police –
aaah-
I left it on site at the Pottery ready to load for recycling.
I’m going to be late – but nothing for it.Jump in the truck, down to the Pottery, hitch up and back again.

Reverse into the yard, adjust the gates for loading the boys – hope they co-operate.

Three of them, half a ton apiece, and me.

They have always been well treated so I don’t shout or hit them – just confine them using the gates, and, with a little encouragement they find their way into the mobile tin can that is going to ship them away from the only home they have ever known.
Driving the main road south, I control my speed while calculating just how late I am going to be. They won’t be sold at the start so I have a little leeway – fifteen minutes in should be okay – half an hour even – longer?

I might even have to turn round and take them home.
It has taken more than two years to prepare them for this day
and
I’m
LATE.

Stirling mart is hidden at the back of an industrial estate: I don’t know the route well. I refer to a Google earth print-out after leaving the motorway.

It is wrong.
After the first roundabout I am lost. I return to pick up the route. I am still lost. I just drive on, hauling my trailer full of patient highland cattle through the byzantine traffic systems, mini roundabouts and leafy suburbs of a city I have no knowledge of. I tell myself to trust in what my mother termed a ‘bump of locality’- an instinctive sense of direction. I am supposed to have a good one.
I finally ease to a halt at a filling station. The lady at the till looks hopeless when I ask her the way to the auction mart-
then-
‘Which one?’
‘er- the old one?’
‘O that’s first left, over the roundabout, through the traffic lights, over the next roundabout: it’s on the right between the Renault and Nissan garages.


Angels are also those with a good local knowledge. She’s right – perfectly.
Cattle sold – back up the road – job done.

The truck breaks down fifteen miles from home.

Could have been worse.
Could have been on the way down.

 

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