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 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.
Image

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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, 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.

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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.

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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.

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

Ave Caesar

Our routine is set. The smoother the progress; the lower the expectation.

I know I can milk Moira; feed her baby – by tube. Wait for tomorrow – when he’ll be a little feebler.
My hope is for an interruption to the expected flow of events – a quantum shift, a bovine epiphany.

The calf won’t suck, doesn’t recognise the teat, doesn’t respond to milk – now I know he doesn’t respond to solids. I tried – this morning- special calf nuts, good as muesli, mixed with creamy mothers milk and plastered round his muzzle- in his mouth –
he cleans it off..
He’s nosing around his mother’s belly as I work on the first teat – tight to start, thin- until she lets it down and the flow is strong and easy.
This is stupid –
I grab him – push his head under her body open his mouth with my fingers and stuff it with the gushing teat.
He hangs as if crucified.
Back to the shed.
After forcing the milk into him- with the tube- I return to Moira to strip her other teats. He wanders out into the yard, belly filled, donders over – puts his nose to mine.
‘Okay boss – no hard feelings’
Ave Caesar

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

Trousers rolled

Margot phones as I leave the shed. I don’t know it’s her, just contort to get to the phone before it rings out. Not so simply done:- half the time I don’t remember which of multiple pockets I have stored it in. Often, as in this case, I have to burrow through layers of outer clothing before even getting close to the noisy little apparatus. I locate it in time to answer her query about hosting a writing group at the farm. To hear more about this exciting prospect I must maintain the dodgy phone signal – I stand without moving in the middle of the farm road, just inside the gate to the A86.
I cannot bend down to pull up my overtrousers rolled down around my knees. I am wearing the first hat to hand – a llama herder type woven helmet with long tassels. I stand frozen in my driveway
– when the council workers pull up to turn in the bellmouth just outside the gate.
I ignore them with dignity.

Moira and her wee lad wish I would ignore them.
When I unite them after overnight separation he heads straight for the udder. It looks like he’s feeding – there are even sucking noises- but not on the teat, Some instinctual signal is not being received. The vet checked for physical deformities and found him fully functional – but perhaps one of the body’s subtle mechanisms is failing, like smell perhaps.
I believe that he will come to understand what the flappy bits under his mother’s rear end are for, and how he claims the bounty hidden there, but for the moment we follow the contrived routine.
Pen both animals, kidnap baby, try the bottle, give up, suspend the bag, insert the tube, remove when bag empty, milk mother into bottle, release both into field.

These are the facts. These mean that Moira is kept free from infection, and her calf lives- another day. It is a routine – but failure in any part means that we might lose him.
Snow falls in fat wet flakes as mother and son trek through the herd.

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Farm Life, Highland cattle, Uncategorized

Taking up space makes it hard to be seen

I return from Inverness where the truck has had a damaged door repaired. Parked in the loading bays at Dingwall Mart sorting out my paperwork before loading Alice and her baby (now partnered with young Holly at the yard), I notice that the adjacent farmer is pulling away. It takes a moment to realise that his vehicle will clear the open door but the stock trailer will not. By this time it is too late to swing the door to, so I withdraw from the interior and yell… and yell again. The trailer catches the door and starts to bend it forward, folding it back agaisnt the wing, stopping before ripping it off.
This was in October: it has taken this long driving around with the wind roaring around the damaged joint: to fix it takes two round trips of a hundred miles, but it is done.
I arrive back dislocated from the farm and the animals so walk out with the Nog to check the pregnant ladies, as if by attending on them I can somehow precipitate the long attended births. Solitary Moira, her lack of horns compromising her capacity to compete for her place in the herd, is in the shed but the others are outside, oblivious of the rain catching on the long hair of their outer coat.
I climb among the rocks of the old gallows mound where I expect the cows to have settled for the night on the drier ground. They are all standing – not yet settled. Abby moves from the feeder to protect her little black bull calf. She has hidden him among the branches of a fallen birch; only his eyes pick up the light.
I cannot find Flora, big red Flora with the fine sweep of horns and the habit of producing some of the finest calves seen in Scotland. I see her shape in lichen blotched boulders, in broken stumps – the dark is playing with my perception.
Back to the paddock with a better torch, this time I walk outside the perimeter sweeping the light inwards. One by one my ladies loom out of the darkness, quietly occupying small parts of the dark. Flora is found on the sloping shoulder of the mound, massively planted, invisible by virtue of passive solidity. Like a rock, or a tree stump.

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Animal stories, Highland cattle, Uvie Farm

Taking baby to cover

Mild and damp after a night of lashing rain. The old dears are lying on muddied flanks like stranded river barges; Abbie’s newborn is hunched and lethargic after his first night in the open, provoking fear of infections. I rearrange the hurdles to create a playpen with a haybale opened in the northeast corner. Wee man may not find his way in there just yet but when there’s more calves playing together they’ll use it for shelter & warmth.
I walk with the Nog past the paddock checking that everyone has settled: they’re all chewing the cud – ‘chawing the cood’ as show supremo Rich Thomson says. I walk down the fence towards the old tinkers’ rest at the roadside. The sound of shots blows across intermittently  from the estate on the steady wind that combs the Creag Dhubh waterfall sideways across the darkened granite. Turning south into the boggy aspen copse, the Nog takes off excitedly: a female roe breaks elegantly to the marsh. She is not alone but I can’t make out any more until a pair of well-grown calves shoot up the hill synchronised as if in harness.
Roe calves make me nervous in case the Nog catches them, or rather doesn’t but takes off after them and then I have to take off after him – unfair contest! This pair crash heavily between the wires of the stock fence and away.
Returning from opening the dry pasture to Angus Halfhorn and his pair of females (mainly so that Alice can use her sandcracked hooves on drier ground), I spy the deer again, all three of them. The doe, her charges already regathered, is bounding across the open field returning them to the cover of the lower ground. The Nog is hunting mice – muzzle thrust into the mud at the base of a rush clump- so, to my relief, neither sees nor smells them.
Time I returned my charges to cover – I’ll rest easier with wee man inside the shed.

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