Farm Accommodation, farm bunkhouse, Uncategorized

Hiding from the wind

The wind is still blowing tonight – chilling me through my clothes. The new calf has none – just rich red curls.
Highland cattle have two winter coats – the longhaired outer shedding the rain sheltering a tight thermal fleece covering of thick fine hair. The babies won’t grow the longer coat until next winter. They rely on maximum insulation to survive the dangerous early days of life.
The new lad has plenty of character, assisting endurance of early hardships. He is alone in the field when I walk round for my evening inspection- close to the field gate where I have been herding him and Demi Og for special treatment penned cosily under cover. I wonder if his instincts are confirming my intention to cosset him for the first week or two.
I have been cossetting myself today.
After my morning round with no new babies appeared, I head back into the house- and stay there.
My excuse is that I have to complete the changeover from last weekend’s guests; but really I’m hiding from the wind- in the roundhouse accompanied by the woodburner- and the Nog snoring on the sofa.
So I’m ironing – in a vigorous, manly sort of way, of course. Duvet covers, pillowcases, fitted sheets –O those fitted sheets! It’s done though, by lunch – so I have time to make up the bunkhouse before my evening round.
After seeing the little lad back to his mum (he ignored her – another sign of character) – I check up on Moira in the bottom paddock. She is gathered with Angus Halfhorn and Alice in a strange tight triangular clot by the fence- the kind of anomaly that is always worth checking. Cattle are highly inquisitive so their presence at an event or accident will be the first indication of something worth looking into, As it happens there is no drama – but Moira’s obsessive scratching probably means that she is getting ready to shed the living burden that is giving her so much discomfort.
Back at the yard Demi-Og appears around the corner of the shed as I open the gate, and then disappears like a Miss Marple curtain twitcher – she has lost her boy.
I find him before she does –
inside the shed-
-sheltering from the wind.

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Animal stories, Farm Life, Highland cattle, Living with Nature, Uncategorized, Uvie Farm

No country for old beasts- (but I make exceptions)

Moira is climbing the slope to the water trough. It is installed in the top corner of the lower paddock where she and Alice lend respectability to Angus Halhorn’s pretensions to be a stock bull. This year sees him become the one male animal with exclusive responsibility for populating the farm.

 

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Currently most of the girls gravitate around Billy in the calving paddock and won’t be introduced to his successor for another month at least. The gestation period for cattle is the same as for humans, so if I want calves born in the New Year I have to wait a while yet.
Moira did not drop her calf last night as I thought she might, so she lugs her swollen body up the slope painfully slowly, not just heavy but also lame.
I hate seeing my animals age.
Billy is no longer reliable to serve the cows as he has for the last decade: his rear legs won’t support his weight to lift him onto the back of a fruitily fragrant female. Cows some into full season just one day a month, so a successful mating demands a kind of intense opportunism. Nature makes no concessions to age.
He is still splendid: reason enough to have him adorning my fields.
Morag is a kind of living ghost. An angular animal who always loses condition in winter so that pink patches of skin show through her thinning white coat, she is now so lame that one leg swings free much of the time.

She is also inspirational, an archetype of stoicism, enduring in all conditions to drop some of the most beautiful calves I have ever had.

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Speaking of which, Demi-Og’s wee boy is lying still in the corner of the pen when I go up this morning. He should be standing, jumping about after a lusty breakfast from his mothers wonderful long teats.
At least he’s moving.
Close up I find that he has his head caught under the gate. He’s pushed it under while lying down, and to extract it…he stands up, only to find that the bottom bar won’t permit it. So he thinks he’s trapped and lies there helpless. I lift the gate as high as I am able – higher still – when I’ve lifted it to his full standing height, he finally saunters free, making a beeline for breakfast.
His presence must justify the pensioners.

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Animal stories, Highland cattle, Uncategorized, Uvie Farm

You might be too old to kick up your heels but still enjoy a new pasture

Abby dips her head into the space where the wires used to be, and crosses the unseen line. She is first because I have called them; she is young and spry – and greedy. She enters the hayfield, shorn of grass but with a fine crop of molehills. Her calf follows -predictably he is first to grasp the implications of this greater space – cantering towards the centre, ending his run by kicking his rear legs in the air.
I am still working at the gate, tidying up loose wire, spare stones, adjusting the set of the fieldgate – but from here I can watch developments. There are risks to this policy of letting the heavily pregnant females and Billy the senior bull into the larger field. For a start it neighbours the Apron where the stotts are held- but more importantly it brings Billy and his son, Angus Halfhorn, within sight of each other.
I aim to keep two fences between competing bulls – it is nominal: either or both could easily jump the line wire, rip up the posts or simply walk through my fences – but I don’t believe they will want to. I let them through early to find out if I my hunch is correct.
I have a card up my sleeve. The top wire is electrified – not by much – but enough to give Billy a message if he starts to breach the boundary.
Sure enough, Billy trots straight across – roaring. I continue working. He promenades along the fence, roaring: the stotts, his non-breeding sons, parade on their side, roaring.
The sound of trumpets cascades the slopes to pool in harmonies.
And now Angus lifts his dirt-gloried head to join the chorus: Billy, quiet for a moment, charges down the fence to investigate this threat of potency. I don’t move: this has to be gone through. Further roaring and reiving – but still no breach of the frontier.
Meantime, elderly Flora with a belly virtually dragging on the ground, picks up on all this testosterone-fuelled activity and starts behaving like a bull herself. She attacks the largest molehill with her horns, throwing dark earth over her neck, then kneels to rub her forehead into the dirt. The Nog finds this wonderfully exciting and circles her, barking and jumping. Back on foot she lunges at him with her three foot span of horns. Both know it is a game: they are feeding energy to the other. Now she winds her lopsided balloon of a body into a gallop, dancing across the field towards Billy like an opera-loving pensioner after Pavarotti.
At the feeder in the paddock, elderly Morag remains. Alone, uncontested – she burrows toward the very centre of the silage.

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

Biology commands, but tenderness prevails

Today is fine and mild. The mist wound around the lower slopes of Creag Dubh has lifted, defining the crags in the clear air. It is a day for working with the animals. I have priorities.

At the Oban show last weekend I encountered Stuart, Demi-Og’s breeder, who warned me of the big calves they are seeing to their stock bull: potentially difficult for a first time mother like my new acquisition. I have to bring her up to the calving paddock where I can keep an closer eye on her and the new baby will be able to find shelter in the building.
Abby’s baby needs his second tag. the stotts need weighing and dosing for parasites, little Holly and Alice likewise. The older cows need their udders clipped of long hair that could confuse a new young mouth seeking the teat. In fact, every animal on the farm needs handling in some way.

I have to do it alone.
There is an order to be followed. The older animals at the yard need dealing with and Billy returned to his quarters before Angus Halfhorn is brought up to avoid an ugly confrontation between father and son.

Abby’s lad is forced into the race – the confined corridor leading to the handling crate. I have the tagger ready, chase him into the crate and close the door. He turns round, digs his little head under the gate and uses his already powerful bull’s neck to lift and open – back to square one. It will get harder as he gets frantic. Backing down the race, I use my body to jam him against the rails, grab his ear, feel for the space between the blood vessels, force the tongs together and withdraw before he can take off. Success.
Now for the big girls with the hairy udders, Holly is trapped in the pen – it’ll be easier if she is caught in the the race but she backs into a corner of the pen and refuses to move. There is a dynamic of trust with the older animals that I am reluctant to break by forcing her like a stranger beast. I feel under her body as she stands unrestrained, teasing her teats clear of the muddy strands of hair. She knows my touch, twitches but stands. Taking care to avoid sensitive flesh I clip the obscuring dangleberries around the lifegiving dugs. Dear Holly trusts me to complete one side, move round to the other and clear the area.
Moira is next – not as trusting as Holly, but greedy. I permit her to drop her head into a bucket of nuts and work as she eats. By the time she finishes, I am too. A stress free operation.
Flora is my biggest and best breeder. She is a pragmatist: she suffers me when she must. Trapped in the pen she takes charge and makes her own way into the race, easing her wide span of horns sideways through the yoke defining the narrow corridor. I slide a bar in behind to hold her, reach through from the sides to clear her bulging sac of hair and hanging mud. Thank you, darling – out you go.
Demi-Og will come up with Angus from below, lured by a bag of nuts rattled on the back of the quad. The air fills with the stink of testosterone as the two bulls catch sight of each other, and roar and groan, digging at the ground with their horns, plastering their heads and horns with dirt to confront their rival with the requisite awfulness.
Both take time out to accept a tickle: Billy on his spine, Angus on his hairy crown.
Biology takes second place to tenderness.

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Highland cattle, Uncategorized, Uvie Farm

Watching for new life

The calves are late this year – Billy is slowing down , and I didn’t spot it. I approached this year assuming his customary reliability driving the farm forward from spring to spring.
I brought my familiar cows up to the calving paddock surrounding the shed, leaving Angus Halfhorn with the two new girls due to calve later. Now it’s neck and neck to the birth canal – my plans are in shreds – and I don’t know who to tend where.
Fortunately the weather is mild – perfect for animals mothering in the open air. Even at midnight, there is hardly a chill. Angus is lying chewing the cud – ‘chawing the cood’ – as supershowman Rich Thompson calls it- so that’s how I think of it now – a sign of contentment, a good sign to a herdsman- chawing the cood.
The girls are on the their feet in the dark – both Alice and Demi Og, tails pulled to the side to relieve the pressure of the life within, shifting uncomfortably from leg to leg. I am concerned they might drop calves imminently , and return an hour later – to find the scene deserted.
Probing the darkness with the torch, I locate them at the feeder – raiding the fridge as it were. Light shone impertinently at their rear reveals that nothing is happening- or likely to happen.
Time for bed, I will maintain my watch in daylight.

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Farm Accommodation, Farm Life, Highland cattle, highland landscapes, Uncategorized

Warmth at the core

The fire is ticking – something to do with constant heating and cooling: constant because this is the only heat source in the house. It is a Jotul woodburner, a monopod – beast with a single foot around which it can be made to rotate so that the lit logs are always seen. Nice idea, but little used.
It is a companion in much the way of the Nog – though quieter. I light it first thing and stock it last. It supplies warmth and cheer. The underfloor heating is expensive and dehydrating : I use it if temperatures drop- at the moment they hardly fall below freezing. The winter before last we had ten weeks sub zero – approaching minus twenty and the heating system failed – the woodburner sufficed.
It provides an axis for living in winter months. Functional tasks are made more pleasant by proximity and almost any domestic or social interaction occurs under its presidency.
This morning I leave the house after ensuring a sustainable flame. I take the quad from the garage to the west, travel in a wide loop south of the house due north to the yard. Feeding the grumbling stotts and placid Angus Halfhorn and his two girls takes me out east. All points covered.
Returning up the hill, the house is elevated on the skyline like a rock grown mushroom, the cupola umbrella-like opened under low cloud. Drifting between the roof green and sky is the thin plume of white smoke. It tells me which way the wind blows and how hard; what I may expect from the weather.
But this wisp also tells of continuity, a connection between outward manifestation and the life indoors. Its offer of comfort increases in direct proportion to the harshness of the winter weather.
It is the banner of ephemeral life in the dead time.

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Farm Accommodation, Farm Life, farm visitors, Highland cattle, Uncategorized, Uvie Farm

Dirty work this cleaning

Clean clean – I’m cleaning the bunkhouse. A surprise group of guests are coming for a weekend of winter hiking. The place needs prepared. All morning is spent indoors while the snow is whistled up by the wind in the eaves. Start with the bathrooms- don’t skimp on the toilets – no trace of previous occupancy. Wash basins,shower, sweep the place out – fresh towels – and onto the bedrooms: family room and two sleeping lofts. Sweep first, clear any used bedlinen- make up the beds from folded linen from the cupboard at the end of the bathroom. Fold the corners of the duvets back as the final invitation. Hoover the lounge, after sweeping crumbs and dust to the floor.
Stair carpet swept down to the tiles in the kitchen. Sweep mud carried in from boots, food scraps down to the entrance door. Clean round the corners on hands and knees, empty recycling bins, stack crockery from the drainer. Make sure the sets of china and glass are complete in the cupboards.
Finish the tiles with the steam cleaner, working backwards towards the end of the long flex run from the garage and then out the garage door so I don’t tread over the damp tiles.
Lights on in welcome – job done. The house will belong to the guests for the weekend, but I’ve given the best start, first impressions must be good and then they will relax into the spaces as the weekend progresses, breaking down habitual spatial jealousies.
And now a different kind of service, a bale to the cattle.
It is sleeting, wet snow driven on the wind. I need to prepare: warmth first, raingear next. My ovetrousers are pulled over jeans, rolled over the top of boots shedding the rain. Both boots and trousers are covered in muck from the morning’s chores. Up to the yard on the quad, pick up a bale on the scorpion tail bogey and down to the sodden pasture where Angus Halfhorn and the girls are standimg on the drier ground. The gate is poached and guttery with deep mud. I have to reverse the machine up to the feeder – the trailer, weighed down with the haybale, skids in the slime and turns too far. Try again. A different line and more throttle sends muck spinning into the damp air but the bale is now jammed up against the metal of the feeder.
Using the JCB I could drop the bale into the feeder from above but it is too wet and soft for the seven ton machine so I use the quad this time, which means upending the feeder. The weight of metal tests me close to the limit on every occasion but at least it’s not cemented to the mud with frost. Tip my fingers into the mire at the bottom of the metal ring and lift to stand it on its side. The bale is levered into the dish where the old silage, black and rank, has been pulled to the side, to sit neatly as I drop the ring over the hay. Squelching back onboard the quad I open the gate to let the cattle feed.
Quad parked in the garage, trailer unhitched and parked, I’m back indoors. My boots and clothes are wet, dirty and smelling of dung.
The cattle don’t mind – the bunkhouse guests might!

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Animal stories, Farm Life, farm visitors, Highland cattle, Living with Nature, Uncategorized, Uvie Farm

Fuel enough for today

Colder this morning, a bale to put out- and the digger doesn’t start, The battery is old, the glow plug doesn’t work- but the old machine normally fires up after a recharge and some fast start like a pensioner on prozak. Today the engine hunts and dies. I realise how dependant I am and in turn how dependant the cattle are on me to resolve this failure.
More juice, and some fresh diesel livening the tank: the machine shakes itself and offers to work – thankfully I can satisfy the bellowing stotts- this time.
Billy, my beloved bull is old too. The calves are late, perhaps he missed some cows this year with the muscles in his weakening rear legs no longer able to lift his weight to mount the willing females. I see him alone in the calving pen: as usual he comes close and bends his giant neck to the side in invitation- which I accept, climbing over the gate and taking time to scratch him leaning my body into the hollow of his flank.
Down in the bottom pasture, Angus Halfhorn waits with his two young cows, both heavy and healthy with calf. They are gathered at the far end of the field. I open the gate above and when I ride down on the quad, they canter parallel to me, unhurried and graceful. The long copper hair of Angie’s coat shakes as he runs, matching me for speed. They proceed to the trough ahead of me and wait for me in expectation.
All quiet, all in order – they are satisfied. I have not disappointed. The machine has fuel for today,

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Animal stories, Farm Life, Highland cattle, Living with Nature, Uncategorized, Uvie Farm

Does racing the dog qualify as farm work?

The Nog has finished harassing the stotts and gallops down the hill after the quad. Angus Halfhorn waits quietly at the fence, on the dry ground where he and the girls spend most of the day. He falls into step with me as I wade though the swampy ground by the feed trough, where he takes his place. Pride of place be it said, but not over-eager. Alice pushes in next and Demi-Og moves nervously round to the end where she will find a space without disturbing the other two. Precedence is clear – it makes my job easier that there is no challenge or jostling.
However, this is not true of the Nog – who starts to give me grief the moment I fire up the quad to ride back up the hill. I invite him on board but with the snow blowing in from the west he can’t make up his mind whether he wants to ride up front or race beside me. The latter makes me nervous so I command him on board like a drunken rating onto a merchantman. He doesn’t get it right though – not willing to sit up in the face of the weather, he lies across the front of the seat like a sack with a tail, pinning the skin of my thigh painfully.
This doesn’t work for me – so I chase behind him up to the second gate and refuse to allow him on board for the run down the road. He has cottoned on to this, so he allows me a headstart, knowing that I will have to slow for the bend and only sets off when I am about thirty yards away. We race up to the house neck and neck.
I’m really not convinced this is best farm practice.

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Farm Life, Highland cattle, Living with Nature, Other People's Stories, Uncategorized

Old and cold today

There is frost on the ground this morning: water is skinned with ice like cooling soup, breaking with a crunch as the quad wheels break through. The air is fresh in my nostrils as I motor down the hill to Angus Halfhorn, and his prime pregnant heifers: Alice and Demi Og. Angie is waiting by the stock fence as I climb over with the feed sack. He watches me without importuning, and then follows to the trough taking his place patiently as I spread the nuts evenly along its length.  He is simply a decent lad, so I take time to acknowledge him, looking him in the eye, hailing him cheerfully and communicating something more subtle but equally important to a herd member- my heartfelt goodwill.

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The cold feels correct, a settled seasonality, though troublesome.

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Ten minutes drive takes me to the coffee-shop for my quarterly book-keeping session with the endlessly patient Wilma, delayed a half-hour for frozen roads. Jimmy arrives, taking a break from chopping logs for sale in the roofless farmhouse across the road. He has been lamenting the mild weather as no-one is burning his sticks, but today he blows on his fingers complaining of the chill wind. Jimmy celebrated his birthday last week – he is 84.

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I have a bale to deliver to the geriatrics at the yard- Billy and the girls. It is just a short stretch from the other side of the yard, but the rusting yellow JCB must be nursed into life to shift the heavy silage. This task is reserved  for late afternoon so that the cold metal of the big engine benefits from the warmth of the day. Even so, having attached the battery charger, administered quick start fluid – it takes the third (and final, for sure) spasm of the wheezing engine to catch and clear.

*
We ready for work even as twilight falls and the frosts of a new night gather.

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