Animal stories, Farm Accommodation, farm bunkhouse, Timber building, Uncategorized, wildlife

Surfing the air

The void between the buildings is spanned by an oaken bridge.
The bunkhouse sits below the roundhouse so that the bridge leaves the roundhouse deck to strike the first floor at the other end,
10 foot off the ground,
and level with the bunkhouse eaves where the swallows dart.
I make the crossing to my office at the westen end of the bunkhouse
The prevailing westerlies hit the gable end of the office to curl round the mouth of the bridge and down its length.
Swallows make their homes here, housemartens adopt the round walls of my home.
This natural specificity is dictated by the respective build systems; mud and grass for materials –
but while swallows prop their nests on a ledge – maybe a downpipe elbow-
martens bracket their nests to a vertical.
They need purchase – choosing the dry head of my rough lime rendered wall.

Today I walkexterior2 out onto the bridge and across to the wide platform
overlooking the bright growth of upper Strathspey.
A swallow brushes past my shoulder using the air as I use the timber deck.
The wind is strong enough for the birds to hold themselves up,
feathers fluttering, with a litany of chirrups and washboard clicks.
There must be a couple of dozen surrounding me,
within inches of my head,
like butterflies
or blessings.

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

Peace returning

A muted complaint alerts me to a mallard couple
splootering contentedly in the roadside ditch;
they watch cautiously as the Nog and I pass.
Higher up the hill roe deer twins
delicate and angular
are not so sanguine, ears pricked intently
as the Nog settles on the crag while I descend.
I keep his attention until calling him down to
chase me beyond the fence,
freeing the calves to bound back to shelter.
A curlew slides past, as if following an invisible aerial contour
and settles ahead of us yammering its liquid call:
challenging by serenade.

Returned to the farm, I can find no threat:
George, deprived of milk and too small for the trough, is watered,
and noses the Nog without concern.
The cattle are at the new grass,
and the housemartens dart among the eaves.
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Animal stories, Farm Life, Highland cattle, Living with Nature, Uncategorized

Billy passes by

Billy’s last journey is simple to trace.
Not for him quiet retirement under the trees.
He has his place – as master.
First he must cross the field.
He sets his head against the closed gate, hooking his horns under the bottom bar.
The metal buckles but the ropes hold and the hinges are strapped down.
No matter- he knows all the ways round the farm that he has owned contentedly for a decade.
He sashays along the fence seeking access to the wooded hollow.
This gate too is tied: a rope looped round a securely braced corner post.
He brings his horns down on the timber bars of the short ladder at the side, smashing them from the post.
The gap is too small for him to pass through.
His way lies through the marsh.
The wired gate swings open under his weight.
He moves purposefully through the bog created by the blocked drainage channel.
His wide hooves carry his body weight squarely punching pockets in the soft ground that fill at once with water.
Where the land dries again, he skirts the fence bordering the vacant hay pasture.
The gate bulges and gives.
He is now on sweet new grass but his mind is not on grazing.
At last he reaches the paddock with the high fence where his females wander in the company of his son.
Angus stands there, responding to his challenge.
Billy tears at the grass with his front hooves, revealing black dirt that he grinds to paste with the front ridge of his skull, snorting and groaning as he does so.
He lifts his head to the sky.
At his trumpeting, rivals will quail, trees split, the earth will shake and walls tumble.
Mastery is his-
just one more gate.
He is ready
to break through.

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

I prepared the field last night, hauling the chain harrow to spread dung and molehills.
This morning is perfect for rolling.

A heavy mist covers the house allowing a luminous glow through the windows-

assurance of a cloudless sky.

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There has been no rain overnight, but the grass is so heavy with moisture it splashes on my face as I trundle the lines back and forward across the field, deep green

then silvery

then green again.

The mist lifts as I progress, revealing sunshine on the upper part of Creag Dubh,

its lower slopes still veiled as if for modesty.

By the time I finish my skin is chilled,

the smell of crushed grass fills my nostrils;

small rainbows hide in thinning vapour.

The day is opening.

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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.

 

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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.

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Farm Life, farm visitors, Uncategorized, Uvie Farm

Night supply

The water in the taps failed at 11.30pm-
after the movie and a couple of drams.
It is Friday after all.
So the guests have no water either.
Outside the sky is clear – but dark.
The quad is out of power – I have no way to bring new water down to the tanks unless I can start it manually.
I don’t remember if it is a kick or pullstart- or where it is.
I prise loose a couple of panels in the torchbeam – it is a pull.
The bowser was left by the tanks; I ride round making as little noise as possible in case I wake sleepers.
The tanks are full- must be electrical. My temporary seal on the pump connections has failed, I guess.
I knock the trip to the pump down and look for the breaker that has tripped. Must be in the garage – but the door won’t open with the power down.
I sneak in via the bunkhouse door – flip the breaker. The pump is whirring in the basement when I return, filling the pressure vessel that supplies the buildings.
Enough to keep the water on for the time being.
I will have to pull the pump from the borehole to make the connections waterproof.
But for now –
sufficient unto the day is the effort thereof.
In short-
though I must fill the tanks tomorrow by bowser-
I can sleep the while.

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Farm Accommodation, farm bunkhouse, Farm Life, Uncategorized, Uvie Farm

milk from the mother

I am not working alone.
I am with the belay team.
Caroline, Mike and Cathy have come to stay- old friends who blend seamlessly with life on the farm.
The name derives from further work on the borehole pump. I know my repairs have restored function –

but not for long.

The isolator perches precariously above the water that fills the pump housing as a result of my poorly regulated float switch.
In short I have electrical elements in close proximity to a watery element – not a recipe for long term sustainability.
The pump needs withdrawing from the well-
again.
This time though –
I have help.
While I hook the well cover to the hitch on the quad and drive slowly up the field, the rest of the team ease the lines out of the borehole and over the timbers of the enclosure to ensure that the alkythene, power cable and probe line do not entangle with the hawser retaining the pump and motor.
When the cables are refixed – the team then works to lower the pump and its eighty metre tails back into the depths below the herbiage and soil of the farm deep into supporting bedrock.
Hence the belay relay – easing the steel canister in a controlled way into the earth to enable water for use in the roundhouse and bunkhouse.
Earlier we teamed up to strip milk from Moira’s swollen udders – neglected for 36 hours- releasing on both sides simultaneously as a result of extra hands for the work.
No pumping here, no electrical connection,
apart from the age-old grip,

draw

and release

of the hand on the teat,
channelling an ancient goodness
warm from the body of the mother.

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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.

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

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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.

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