Animal stories, Farm Accommodation, farm bunkhouse, Farm Life, Highland cattle, new birth, Uncategorized

Did Garbo lie in the grass?

I have two days to renew my electricity contract.
If not my friendly supplier will continue to supply me-
at five times the cost.
A pine marten would, I suppose,
display no less rank predatory opportunism
among my hens.
As I complete the task I notice Holly
lying alone: atypical behaviour triggering a latent alarm.
She watched me head-up this morning as I rode the quad to the yard.
She was watching still at my return.
I put it down to a quest for morning feed,
now discontinued.
I kick myself for ignoring a possible signal-
where is her beautiful white heifer calf?
When animals suffer
or die
any stockman takes it on themselves.
Ishouldhavebeentheregotupearlierinthedawnseenthesignals.
Two months ago I saved Demi-Og’s baby by the merest chance,
a matter of seconds,
sometimes I fail.
Season before last Holly’s calf died
for no reason.
I saw her first thing,
by lunch she had stretched out
and expired as I pumelled and exhorted
in the exact same damp spot that April’s newborn had passed
a month earlier.
I will never permit an animal to calve there again-
just in case they are called to follow..

Dear Holly – not again-
I run from the office, coat and boots collected,
run to the field-
please No!

The calf, big and white, is easily spotted over the brow,
picking at tufts on the ledges of the rabbit warren.
Relieved, I tickle Holly as she lies in the grass.
Angus Halfhorn, as fickle as any harem master should be,
has forgotten yesterday’s dalliance with Moira:
Demi Og is today’s sweetheart.

Image

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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.

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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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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 Life, Highland cattle, Living with Nature, Uvie Farm

Quiet days in Clichy -er -Uvie

At last some calm – for me and the animals. I tend to the three old girls by the new shed: Morag has become used to feeding separately from her bucket laced with cod-liver oil for her rheumatic rear leg, and the others are content to compete at the trough. Little Holly maintains her programme of deluded harassment, trying to wrest the bucket fom me with her immatue horns before I can spread it in the trough where shy Alice is able to participate.
I am using the quad now to feed the other animals, something I avoid doing before starting supplementary feeding since the older animals recognise the sound of the motor as an invitation to food, compelling as a dinner bell, or rattled sack. Silage is low in the feeder on the hardstanding, mounded in the centre like an oversized nest: I climb inside and spread the residue to the sides where it can be reached by the smaller animals. Plenty of hay still for Angus Halfhorn and his two ladies, but mother Alice is reluctant to come to the trough and I am afraid that her bad feet are troubling her, suffering from damaged hooves with large vertical clefts called sandcracks.
The Nog is excited about the reappearance of the quad and launches himself at me when I climb aboard to drive back up th hill. He scrabbles into position so that he is sitting in my lap with his front legs braced on the the seat, as if piloting the machine. I hold my head back to avoid his attempts to lick my face in appreciation of the ride, to avoid a dunt from his bony skull. My view of the path ahead is obscured by a pair of long brown ears flapping in my face.
To my surprise, Billy and the girls have not moved over to the silage I’ve made available for them but are filing westwards down the road to Logan’s meadow. They are recovering their wandering habit as nomadic grazers after a few days of huddling immobile in self protective withdrawal. It is the field where they spent the long hot summer; perhaps they are recovering some balance to their morale, seeking the remnant grass from that time.
A cloud of redpolls, tiny migrant finches, lift from the birches by the house like thrown confetti. The spider-like patches of snow retreating in hollows are dusted with seed and husks thrashed from the upper branches.
There is harvest too at this dead season.

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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.

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Highland cattle, Uvie Farm

little girls get ready for school

Little Holly stares at me from inside the yard. She has a hay coiffure where she has pulled it from the rack onto her head where it sits like a jackdaw’s nest. I back through the gate so as to close it easier; she tries to force her nose in to the bucket that I am holding closed with my other hand. I am saving time by holding the scoop with chookie corn in the same hand, so she risks spilling it and sending me back to the feed shed to refill. Little Alice is hanging back still, but this pushiness from Holly means that Alice must be be starting to assert herself.

Alice is the more naturally adventurous of the two – it is she that forces her way into the section of the shed that is to house my new workshop, and she is the one making the trailer quake mysteriously by rubbing an itch as I am inside unloading. These days I give the two of them the freedom of the yard not simply the pen outside the shed. They relish the extra space and interest; testing the breeze for new possibilities.
This new freedom will build confidence like giving a child the run of the house: good preparation for schooling them in a month or so. Alice is a jumpjet of a calf, taking off at the slightest provocation. I need to work her inquisitive nature to develop a habit of co-operation if she is to stay on the farm as a breeding female.

I wonder if I should get a school-bell?

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Farm Life, Living with Nature, Uncategorized

Calum and the ill wind…

I walk up to the yard with the Nog-it is windy and warm. I have my tape measure to determine timber quantities for the new workshop at the shed that currently houses the two young heifers, Holly and Alice. Alice is slowly settling to the absence of her mother, and Holly is looking less long-suffering as her companion grows quieter by the day.
Calum’s quad and trailer are parked in the sloping wood on the other side of the road – overloaded as usual. I see him and big Tony higher up among the trees and yell out: “You guys must be rubbing your hands every time the wind blows”. Calum descends to the gate smiling. He’s had a haircut, or rather a shearing, his thick grey hair tight to his head.
Aye,aye, big old birch down in the last wind
One of the big silver birches
Aye, shame.
Shame.
Calum is a tenant of the estate which is up for sale for £71/2 million. The owner hasn’t contacted him to discuss his future in his wee cottage with long southerly views from its small windows.
You’d think wealth would bring, well – culture, courtesy maybe..
Calum doesn’t comment but the strain shows.
Back on my side of the road I proceed with designing my new workplace when the Nog starts barking outside. In case I have a rare visitor, I return outside and see a maroon 4×4 parked across the entrance. A smartly dressed man is walking swiftly towards the verge when he sees me and turns back. I see his hands already prepared to work his zipper.
Clearly, feeling the call of Nature he has stopped in a nice quiet rural location to commune. Disappointed in his quest for privacy, he heads across the road to the gateway opposite at which point Calum, having refilled the chainsaw fires it up. Our visitor, now aware of his exposure to Calum and Tony, heads back across the road to the other side of my gateway, where he is met by the Nog barking furiously inside the fence, presumably only inches from his functional apparatus.
I say “presumably” since I have returned inside the shed as if I had no time for anything else.

Ho- well – so we brush shoulders with a greater world.

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