Farm Accommodation, farm bunkhouse, Farm Life, Uncategorized, Uvie Farm

milk from the mother

I am not working alone.
I am with the belay team.
Caroline, Mike and Cathy have come to stay- old friends who blend seamlessly with life on the farm.
The name derives from further work on the borehole pump. I know my repairs have restored function –

but not for long.

The isolator perches precariously above the water that fills the pump housing as a result of my poorly regulated float switch.
In short I have electrical elements in close proximity to a watery element – not a recipe for long term sustainability.
The pump needs withdrawing from the well-
This time though –
I have help.
While I hook the well cover to the hitch on the quad and drive slowly up the field, the rest of the team ease the lines out of the borehole and over the timbers of the enclosure to ensure that the alkythene, power cable and probe line do not entangle with the hawser retaining the pump and motor.
When the cables are refixed – the team then works to lower the pump and its eighty metre tails back into the depths below the herbiage and soil of the farm deep into supporting bedrock.
Hence the belay relay – easing the steel canister in a controlled way into the earth to enable water for use in the roundhouse and bunkhouse.
Earlier we teamed up to strip milk from Moira’s swollen udders – neglected for 36 hours- releasing on both sides simultaneously as a result of extra hands for the work.
No pumping here, no electrical connection,
apart from the age-old grip,


and release

of the hand on the teat,
channelling an ancient goodness
warm from the body of the mother.

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

Winter quiet

The dark vegetation at the top of Creag Dhub is dusted with snow while the grey granite remains unchanged. It is the summer plumage of a ptarmigan, reminiscent of warmer days on the high tops where the wind cuts still. Now the mild morning is greeted as though the season had turned and I listen hatless to the full throated song of an unknown bird in the branches above the shed roof. It is easy to visualise the sound falling like water, or a blessing.
Snow swirls again around the house as I look out from breakfast preparations. The flakes are small and round, light enough to be lifted and carried on the breezes that eddy in the lee of the planes of the roundhouse and its segmented roof. The flakes reveal the architecture of the westerlies – some which swoop from the roof above, some swirling round the walls, some shooting out across the fields with only the briefest reference to the temporary obstruction of my home.
The cattle are watchful, healthy, unperturbed – no new calves are born, no crises undergone by the older animals. .
Six long-winged birds fly westward – swans probably – I follow them with my eyes but can’t identify them for sure. A mob of jackdaws-always activist- has occupied the perimeter of the kitchen garden.
We are suspended in a kind of uncertainty.
I will put out two bales of silage.

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

My ghost sits in the branches of a birch tree

I see my ghost in the middle of the day.
Walking the Nog up to the yard before lunch, I spy the robin. He flies into the lower branches of the sole birch tree within the  yard used for exercising the show animals. I watch him in the winter sunshine: I see his redbreast. As usual he watches me from a distance, askance.


I think of him as a ghost because he is mostly half seen only: but always there when I walk in the half light to start my service of the animals. Most days I catch him from an eye’s edge swooping across the mouth of the gate to disappear inside the barn. I cannot spy him among the clutter of machinery, haybales, scaffolding gear, fencing tools, machined timber, oil containers, ropes, fencing tools, feedsacks, deer lardering kit – but I know he is there- watching from the shadows, bright-eyed.


Perhaps he really is a ghost. This place belonged, of course, to farmers and cattle breeders before me. They, their houses, the township are gone – their fields, the shapes of their roads and yards, the piles of stones picked from the plough remain as their legacy. The kaleyard they used to crop for the table has been restored as my kitchen garden. The robin clearly monitors my activities as I tend the cattle; if he is an old showman he’ll enjoy watching the choice calves grow, get halter trained and schooled in the yard. He would chuckle at my bungled attempt to tag Abby’s calf the other morning. He’d applaud a good animal well turned out.


This is, after all, an ancient relationship. Robins, they reckon, followed herds of animals for the grubs and insects disturbed. Later, watching apes grow intelligent enough to manage those herds, the bird followed the man after the ape, the farmer after the herder. Strongly territorial, the male defends his patch, and presumably his provider, the farmer. So my ghost has ownership of me – not my person so much as my behaviour, from which many advantages may accrue to one small bird and his mate.


As he sits in the unaccustomed glare of the sun, a flock of finches bursts into the bare branches above his head like a firework, and scatters to the adjacent trees.  A rapid looping swoop takes him to the crack at the base of the barn’s slatted wall- and into the sheltering shade. He has seen and shown enough.


I will look for him tomorrow.

Farm Life, Highland cattle, Living with Nature, Uvie Farm

Violence and wild neighbours

The cattle are lurking at the top of the road. They’re using the trees to shelter from the wind but also trying to convince me that the weather is harsh enough to warrant supplementary feeding. It isn’t: in fact it is unseasonably warm. I harden myself to collective emotional blackmail even as Abby and Holly position themselves across my path to force me to acknowledge them. The babies,namely little Holly and Alice, get fed at the shed, but that is to socialise them as well as to bring them on. The rest just have to man – er -cow up: it’ll get tougher later in the winter.
The fine weather means there are no welfare fears, the feeders are full and the beasts content apart from Ma Alice who, separated from her baby, looks forlornly through the net like a POW dreaming of home. A tickle down both sides of Angie Halfhorn’s ample neck and I’m out the bottom end of the Aspen paddock to follow the old township road past the kitchen garden and back up to the house for breakfast.
Closing the final gate I spot a scatter of feathers: white with pale brown edging- the colours of my sober Maran hens. These have not been lost through preening: there are breast and flight feathers torn out. Not enough though to constitute a shambles, a bourroch in the old language. There is no explosion of feathers the way a peregrine pulverises a pigeon: no shredded carcase after the way of a harrier. Perhaps one of my chooks was dragged here by a big predator, fox or wildcat?- But no, the two Marans perambulate peacefully at the shed with their bible black consort whose splendour is only slightly lessened when he trips over his own feathered feet.
I am relieved not to have failed an animal in my care; but troubled that one of my wild neighbours should have suffered some nameless violence this night past.

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.