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.

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Animal stories, Farm Life, Highland cattle, Uncategorized

Reculer pour mieux sauter

The Roundhouse creaks in the storm, ticking and cracking with small reports like a Borrower’s gun battle -a southwesterly is blowing against the walls, shed sideways by the curvature but catching under the overhanging eaves where it jockeys for purchase, attempting to lift the roof clean away from the wallhead,

It is one of the problems of my self- build: ignorance is bliss-

-but I know every nail.

By morning, the world is completely calm – and stays that way: something to enjoy, especially by contrast with the violence of the night before.
I am content to wait therefore while Moira, massive and uneasy with calf, finishes the nuts I have poured for her separately (it takes her so long to catch up to the trough). Angus Halfhorn finishes before Moira has set to, but he can only glare at me in bemusement through the grille of the gate that I closed to prevent him muscling in.
I can only sit on the quad and watch her eat; even the Nog sits – and watches me sitting. There is no wind, little sound- the world waits for an elderly cow to finish her feed- when I can race the Nog to the gate at the top of the field.
I visit twice more, and still no developments- finally to the top shed to watch the girls. They are contentedly gathered round the feeder – stocking up for the night ahead. The two calves are the only occupants of the field; secure in each other’s company despite the three month age gap- black Abby’s boy is twice the size of Demi-Og’s infant.
This little subset of the Uvie family is feeding peacefully: it is a simple thing to share with animals partnering my daily life.

The sky is quiet, crisscrossed with a chinoiserie of bare birch branches and twigs. Birds are singing – robins, chaffinches, a blackbird. I can hear them but not see them. Behind the shed stands a taller birch, surmounted by a single bird outlined on the smallest, tallest twig -like a christmas angel. The music continues – until a sudden passage of sharp clicks gives the game away. This is a starling, seemingly imitating other birds, seeking pre-eminence, perched higher than the others, beak lifted to the sky, fearless and loud, filling the quiet evening air like a concert hall.
The gate bangs against the bin as I swing it open- when I look up the tree is empty, the performance finished.

As I walk down the road, I find it hard to tell silence from music.

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

Back and forward to the future

Today the cows are peaceful, the two bull calves are stotting in the sun– and I didn’t walk up the hill with the Nog as intended.
Sunday morning is for housework – fair enough – Sunday afternoon was for walking , skirting by Sarah Justina’s monument standing on the apron of Creag Dhubh, and straight up to the ridge that forms my northern horizon. Beyond there lies the back country.

As one walks, the present day recedes – to be replaced by something immediate.

With one’s back to the farm, the road and the river, one crosses the first waste, where the ‘dry loch’ tells a story of caught glacial water released when the barrier at the lower end gave way, leaving a horseshoe of upland bog.
Down to the old road in Dalbhalloch- now used by hikers and hunters only – ending at the lost village of Dal-na- sealg (Dalnashallach) where one house is maintained as a bothy.
Then further out and up to the Monadhliath plateau – kind to neither man nor beast – the first landmass – and realm of the great god Pan.-
-but I wasn’t there today.
Instead I was facing towards the future.
The two buildings on the farm, roundhouse and bunkhouse, are all electric – with a ground sourced heatpump for heating and hotwater, with the plan to become self-sufficient in power. As technology changes , this closing of the sustainability loop has been getting closer. Most solutions, however, involve laborious administration and big outlays to meet the demands of government incentives.
Zeno and Celine, with a company involved in generating by windpower, put shape to my intentions; confirming the option of self-installation without official intervention or incentive.
A day of progress therefore if not forward motion of the kind the Nog and I enjoy.
Pregnant ladies still need checking over, little Alice and Holly need more hay; Demi-Og and the lad are happy now to donder up to the shed to be shut in for the night..
-and, in the bottom paddock, Moira stands and shifts her weight, patiently preparing to calve- maybe tonight.

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

First minutes

Demi Og does not attend the morning feed. Shy, sulking or something else? She stands in the corner by the new gate holding her tail stiffly. Trough filled, greedy horned eaters avoided -I walk down to inspect.
There is a rosy cord stretched behind her – her waters have broken. I open the new gate to the hayfield, and close it behind her. There is less shelter here but she’ll avoid the invasive curiosity of her peers. A foot suddenly protrudes from her rear and recedes – front surely – I do not want to have to turn a bumfirst baby.
I must be quick to feed the others. Holly and Alice fed, cleaned and a bolster of hay rammed into the rack – and down to the stotts- across the field this time – keeping an eye on Demi Og. She walksto the far corner – stops – a nose appears alongside one foot. So it’s facing frontwards – is the other leg forward or back? If the baby is caught on the shoulder it could be tough. I keep my distance – not wanting to push her further.
This is her first time – she was bought four months ago, in calf to a bull of quality, who is throwing big calves. It may be hard on her but if the baby is female it will mean another breeder for the farm’s future.
She drops to ground as I climb the fence to the stotts – electrocuting myself- (I forgot setting a booby trap to deter Billy from invading Angus Halfhorn’s terrain).
As I return on the quad she stands again – the calf is coming. It slides out rolled and packaged like a carpet – the nose has broken the membrane and is clear, but I still open the mouth to pull out anything that will inhibit the first breath.
Which doesn’t come.
The calf is a lifeless lump of matter. I was too late. She was too long.
I massage the slimy little chest – no reaction. I check the little body for injury: none apparent. The head lies flat to the ground, eyes closed; body limp, legs still folded.
I massage again – rocking the body to wake it- the head lolls
– and then arcs backwards to draw a breath.
Half a minute later it is moving its legs, preparing to stand. The cord connecting the two is strong and short – putting pressure on the baby’s stomach. No knife – this once – no knife in my pocket! I tease the cord free from her with my hands.

Demi Og  has been sitting quietly so far but now turns to face this squirming wriggly thing, puts down her head and… roars full in its face, roars as if to sound the world’s end, to summon the dead; roars in shock, rage, astonishment, pain and pride. Little one promptly subsides terrified- rightly so as the mad maternal monster looming above cannot decide whether to lick this thing or pitch it over her horns like a bundle of hay.

Once it is clear that she is not intent on infanticide I can leave them- but the weather intervenes. The open field is strafed by barbs of sleet riding a stiff westerly – baby is still birthwet because Demi is licking in patches- like stamps- not cleaning end to end- and shivering. If  little one moves towards her udder she turns head on – little chance of satisfaction there.
I gun the quad to pick up the trailer, scissors, iodine – throw in some armfuls of hay and head back, parking the trailer to windward and dropping a windbreak of hay. Avoiding the still roaring madmother I snip the overlong cord and spray it brown.  Eventually the calf settles, still shivering. I am released for breakfast.
I take stock only as I enter into the warmth: it’s a boy.

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Farm Life, Highland cattle, Uvie Farm

Ghosts don’t eat soft fruit

Lunch is a time sandwich: crunchy farm filling between slabs of morning and afternoon joinery. Demi Og watches me arrive, lifting her head from the round feeder- I raise mine to her as if horned. Arthritic old Morag has moved up the field from her dead-buffalo-on the prairie position she had adopted when I left, reassuring me that she is not ready to give up just yet.  

It is the second day of the mild south-westerly & the ground is soft, perhaps the last chance to plant the potted sticks that bother me at the door: red gooseberry & domesticated bramble. I open the door to the ecstatic Nog and head down to the kitchen garden. It is the first year established: sowing was late and little produced but I am glad it is there. It covers half the area of the old kaleyard, the area of subsistence crops for the old township, dominated by the tumbledown farmhouse. I plant the shrubs at the top of the rectangle- almost exactly the vantage of a photographer in 1903 who took shots of Mrs Logan and her home. He saw a substantial thatched house with peat store and cartshed attached at right angles protecting the house and yard from the wild westerlies, In the foreground, cabbages grow where I have my modest collection of fruiting shrubs. I imagine the stern hardworking old ghosts tut-tutting at my frivolity – ‘gooseberries, redcurrants & blaberries not cabbages, eh?’.

Maybe I malign them, they planted lilacs after all: my fruit trees will blossom for them also.

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