change of season, farm bunkhouse, highland landscapes, hillwalking, Uvie Farm

Today I walked a mountain gold and cold

Summoning crags

Summoning crags

The pump in the basement is old:
it has run dry and burned a few times,
smoking and blowing capacitors.
Still works though – just not strongly
enough to charge the water pressure.

My entire water supply is dependant:
my guests too, my business-
on this old pump’s enduring.
It develops quirks as its power fades
allowing the pressure to run low
as if too tired to chase
only heaving itself into action
when the stream has all but dried.

The one outlet that dries altogether
is the highest: my shower.
In the morning I stand under the flow
wait for it to dribble and die,
and then stretch out a long and trembling arm
to turn the hot tap at the basin
that spurts and sings encouragement
to its lofty wall-mounted companion
which then releases warm liquid joy
onto my chilling head and shoulders.

For three days now the sun has shone brilliantly;
I have the choice to sit at my papers
and wait the slow onset of early dark
and creeping cold
or seize the sunlight on the hill.
The Nog approves my choice.
I will not lose myself this time,
just to crest Creag Dhubh
gigantic companion to the farm round
clear to view
besides many false summits.

Sunlight on the rockface summons:
the grass glows gold.

golden grassland

golden grassland


This gradient demands new pressure
from the old pump driving my legs
upwards to where space narrows
between rock and sky.

Crag Dhubu crest

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Animal stories, highland landscapes, hillwalking, Living with Nature, Uncategorized, wildlife

Quiet in the evening sun

We use the same path most nights, the Nog and I: he has come to expect it.
We leave the yard by the blacksmith’s gate behind the sheds.
Passing along the old highway dominated by Tom na Cruachan, where the hanging tree stood, use broken down field dykes to negotiate the wet ground , ending at the little lift stile that, sluicelike, permits me over and the Nog beneath.
He sits waiting for the evening traffic to clear when we can cross the road into the braes and birches of the overgrown granite workings.
The tracks that used to carry carts and slow sledges loaded with stone, now trace a single thin line though chesthigh bracken. The Nog precedes me on the path, branching onto invisible scent trails between concealing fronds that tremble and sway as markers of his busyness.

Yesterday’s evening sun lay gently on the thickets of thin trees scrambling up grey rockfaces.

It was pleasant to amble with my face turned upwards-

so I tripped over the Nog rigid on the path, intent on something higher up.

After a time I saw his immobility mirrored by a doe, plain to view but indistinct against a background of branches, leaves and lichens. The Nog  looked in my direction, moving his eyes only, questioning:

as clearly as I could I signalled:
‘You go for it if you like but you know you don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of catching a full grown roe deer so if I were you don’t even think of it, but if you want make an idiot of yourself &c &c-‘
-or thoughts to that effect.
And he listened!
– and trotted comfortably off down the path;
while the doe gathered herself to vault a fallen trunk

and eased herself

silently from sight.

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

Spring into summer

George Halfcalf gets himself stuck behind the fence separating Logan’s meadow, where the main herd luxuriates in the new grass, from the coarse whitegrass and rashes of the wee lochain, beloved of waterfowl.
Winter is over now- not because the leaves are on the trees (apart from the aspens, still gaunt and grey), but because I no longer start the day with a feed-round.
The year does not divide into separate apartments though; I do not step through the door of spring into the renewed world. It moves like a travellator at an airport. After staggering through the dark and cold, lugging baggage, I suddenly step onto a moving belt surging towards the departure gate, blinking and off-balance.                                                                          The martens work in squads,                                        the swallows in pairs,

and I work alone –                                                                  all of us building, relishing the damp warmth lifting vapour from the burgeoning growth at ground level. The birds collect mud from puddles: I collect plasterboard from Inverness.

The birds pick dry moss off the rocks: I buy packs of rockwool. I’m halfway home with the  loaded cattle  trailer before I realise I left them behind.

We all move forward; no-one must be left behind.
George wobbles through the gate, setting out across the lengthening grass.

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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 Accommodation, Farm Life, Living with Nature, new birth, Uncategorized, Uvie Farm

Some animals look after themselves

The ailing calf is only alive today because I force milk (and recently minerals) into his stomach. The rest of the herd is just starting to wean itself off dependance on me, the provider. There is a hint of new grwoth in the grass; a foretaste- literally- of summer.
It has been glorious day. I end with a turn up the hill with the Nog, winding round the back of the crag, doffing our virtual cap at Sarah Justina’s monument on the top, and back down again. Over the fence, down the open slope with whitegrass and bog myrtle, turn left into the birches and cross the road back into the farmyard.
I am not on a mission – more of a timeclock. If my sourdough is not to overbake, I have to complete the tour in 40 minutes, back by 25 past.
Simple –

except that a roe doe stands motionless on the brae on watching, poised.

When the Nog takes off in vociferous pursuit, her two calves appear from concealment bouncing away in divergent directions, to reunite later.
The path beside the burn behind the crag leads steeply upwards, bare birch branches outlined against the sky. Two such turn out to be the horns of a pair of billy goats standing on their hind legs, forelegs braced against the trunk.
The Nog takes off and then, after no more than 10 yards, courage failing, noses among the mosses as if looking for mice.
A pair of partridge need pointing and flushing before we can return across the road, the final distraction before rescuing the loaf – 27 minutes past – not bad.
Across the river a herd of forty red deer are grazing contentedly on the new shoots appearing in the wet ground. At a quarter mile distance I can’t pick out individuals, but the ones scampering between different static groups like scouts or couriers – these are the calves.
I enjoy animals where I don’t need to intervene.

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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 Accommodation, Farm Life, Living with Nature, new birth, Uncategorized, Uvie Farm

Right idea- wrong end.

Farming is about improvised stratagems proving effective as routines.
Force feeding Moira’s calf has become such.
I deal with him after breakfast: he needs the time – after the others have been seen to.
Lock his mother in the handling crate – take him through to where the loose hay bale is stored for little girls Alice and Holly, back him against the bale, and, straddling him, offer the bottle. When this fails, wrestle him to the ground and try again.
When this fails, hang the bag on the hook in the beam, fill it with warm milk, sit under it, holding the calf with his back against my chest, head extended upwards, insert the tube all the way,open the clip and fill his stomach with lifegiving milk. O – and ignore gasps gurgles, surges,spasms, bleats and death rattles until the last drop has flowed.
He gets to his feet as soon as the tube is removed- we leave the shed together to join his mother. I hold the bottle under the nearest teat and start to fill it. Once most of the milk is down, I head round to the other side of the crate to work of the parallel teat, keeping a canny eye on the baby under her belly. As I’d hoped he makes use of my absence to move close to his mother, exploring.
When I return to his side, I find him with his head lowered beneath her body.
This is real progress.
As a big calf with a low slung mother, he needs to dip his head, even drop to his knees, to make use of the teat. I can hear him slapping his head against the underside of her body – thwack – it sounds like a punch – thwack. His instincts tell him to release the milk in the udder. He is not hitting the udder.
He is under her forward leg- her armpit, bashing her chestbone.
I nudge him gently towards the rear. I am on my knees, he is standing. Our heads are together. The teat swings invitingly inches from our faces.
We have lessons to learn yet, my brother.

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

Calculations and consequences

Looking down from Sarah Justina’s crag where her monument presides, the features of the farm are laid out like a baize cloth for a table game. The major pieces are fixed: the roundhouse and bunkhouse connected by the oak bridge, the farm sheds with the yard between, fences dividing the ground into discrete, irregular segments.
Other pieces are mobile. The cattle trailer is now parked next to the old mobile home used while I was building the house; the bale buggy rests in the yard after running a fresh supply of hay down to Angus Halfhorn and Alice. The beasts have wandered up to the shed for their evening feed from the round feeder, leaving only the new mums: Holly with her delicate white heifer calf born yesterday and Moira with my nemesis- a beautiful little bull who won’t live unless I force milk down his throat.
I must move the mobile pieces around the farm board.
This morning, little Holly and Alice follow the feed bucket out from the shed across the yard and into the wood – these babes must stay there until I have finished with the space, the square they normally occupy. I need it now for Moira and the boy – push them across, lift the boy in my arms, run down the narrow corridor to the handling crate chased by the frantic mother, duck out of the crate pushing the lad ahead of me, double back and latch her securely.
Now I try him first on yesterday’s milk: if I fail I will have another chance after refilling the bottle.
I fail.
Back to square mum.
I tug down three litres of golden liquid. Her bag softens, her teats are flaccid: she moans gently as the pressure eases.
And he refuses it. I force half into his stomach using the tube.
Released into the field, I will wait to bring them back in this evening.
In the morning they will be back in play. There will be new moves.

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