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

The king is dead. Long live the king!

I tag the last calf this morning –
old white Moira’s bull calf,
her last
and Billy’s.
I coral him in a tight pen at the entrance to the race.
It confines him nicely, but the hurdle closing the entrance has no chain
to close it: being strong  he could force it open by charging the bars
the way they do when frightened,
while I seek a tie.
I use my trousers,
restoring my dignity once the lad is released.

Logging the birth online,
filling Billy’s tag number as sire
for the last time
I see the animals in the field below the window
alert to something in the wood.
From the balcony I spot Moira being harrassed by the bullocks,
circling to escape their attempts to mount her.
She has come into season-
the first time after George’s birth.
She could be injured by these crude suitors,
incapable but only too willing.
I run down, divide them and shepherd her and George through the gate.
The boys watch her forlornly as they amble toward the other animals
She and her halfcalf are once more part of the herd-
and Angus Halfhorn is waiting.

Their future,

my future

is his now.

 Come back!- we didn't mean it.

Come back!- we didn’t mean it.

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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.

Image

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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.

 

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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 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.

 

*
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.

*

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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Animal stories, Farm Life, heroic ambition, Highland cattle, highland landscapes, Uncategorized

Why would the wren fly higher than the eagle?

I leave the feeding to the end of the day. It has been snowing on and off with bright skies between showers. The JCB doesn’t start, so it’s a race to the pumps for fuel and back for putting out hay and silage before dark.
When I return from Newtonmore, the stotts are bellowing: with reason, their feeder was close on empty when I checked this morning.
‘Fee-ee-e-ed us: you–uuu–re laa-a-ate!’ the big guy bellows from across the field; they are gathered at the gate the way they do every morning waiting for me to appear with the nuts.
‘I—iii-m ooo—ooo—n iiii-iit! No–oo–tt l—-ooong gu-uys’ I yell back before filling and powering up the old machine.
I’m taking the silage from inside the enclosure with the two little girls, Holly and Alice, so I let them into the yard. They come out dancing – and set to scratching on all the novel protuberances suddenly made available.

The old yellow machine thunders down the farm road past the pond where the mallard pair have recently taken up residence, nudges the gate open with the front wheels, drops the bale in the feeder and lurches back up the road.
It’s Billy and the girls in the calving paddock next. The bale catches on the forks and needs a shunt: the plastic wrap drops with it requiring removal  in case of ingestion, fatal in the case of a calf. Billy is sidling round the feeder as I hack at the plastic caught by the weight of the sodden grass. He catches up to me before I manage to release it, and bashes me with his giant horns.
As it happens I know this manoeuvre: I have to tickle him before completing the task. Toll extracted in the currency of contact, Billy permits me to haul out the remains of the wrap and remove it from danger.
The moon is shining clear on the snow-peppered mire of the yard. There is a single star riding above, like a wren above an eagle. As the story goes, we need a lift to fly high.

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

The visitor

I was going to say that I never saw a human face today (so it’s a good thing I enjoy the animals) – but it is not true.
I am in the yard after dropping a bale into Billy and the gravid mothers. They are all outside since it is breezy and fine; Abby’s wee black boy gallops among the birches like a tiny stampeding bison, and Billy tries to intercept the bale hoisted above the feeder, reaching up like a basketball player.
Gates shut, JCB parked; my sole visitor appears at the gate. Trevor the woodsman wants to know who owns Lochain Ubhaidh (Wee loch Uvie – close enough to the farm to share a name).
He was standing between the cliffs and the water when he heard a thrashing in the water.
Sma-a-a-k. A giant fish clears the water and thumps back with the noise of a sledgehammer splintering a gatepost.
Sma–k. It breaches again.

The sound echoes from the looming crags, vigilant with ravens.

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Farm Life, Highland cattle, Living with Nature, Uncategorized

A weave of many interests

Four pheasants saunter round the yard, awaiting my arrival. They are not seriously disturbed by the Nog (maybe word has circulated in pheasant circles about just how useless he is as a gundog). The ghost robin speeds by, half-seen as always, on his way to some discreet vantage in the barn. Billy and the pregnant girls plus black Abby and her new calf wait motionless to be triggered into movement only on my approach to the feed trough. I must pilot my way through like a tugboat through a harbour bound fleet.

*

Morag and I have a compact. She is an ungainly white cow, unfailingly hostile who produces excellent calves that she mothers well. Morag is effectively on three legs, standing with her left rear raised several inches in the air, and putting it to ground only when she has to. She has never walked well and is clearly struggling now with rheumatics; as a gesture towards her long and grumbling companionship, I dose her with cod-liver oil by means of a distinct bucket of feed nuts. Trouble is – if she and I don’t play canny- more agile members of the maternity wing will edge her off the bucket.

I approach the fence therefore with two buckets, but drop the medicated one inconspicuously before straddling the line wire. There follows a period of confusion, where Billy and the girls jockey for top position at the trough and I try to distribute the feed evenly while avoiding injury from heavy feet and hard horns. Morag sometimes plays at joining in, though she knows she is not fit to compete; but as soon as the others are fully occupied, she breaks off to follow me back to the fence, where I secretly swing the waiting bucket under her muzzle.

*

The Nog paces beside me as I run the feed sacks down the hardstanding. The quad was left outside the door last night – I kneel on the seat to avoid getting a wet arse. The stotts have two troughs to avoid congestion and bullying. One of these boys follows me uncertainly as a I move between the two leaving his fellows with their heads down. He has abandoned assured benefits in favour of anticipated advantage. He has a gambler’s soul.

We all have our stratagems.

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