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.

Standard
Farm Life, Highland cattle, Uvie Farm

Change now, betterment later – and a small death

Tonight is the longest of the year. In winter the night limits the day, and defines it. The roundhouse sits high on a coronet of rock catching the wind on a stormy night. Last night I listened to the lashing rain. preparing for the day ahead and the implications for the cattle in their separate areas.
The little girls are best off, just the two, able to shelter in the bedded pen coming out to meet me with the morning feed. The small round shape lying on the concrete is the corpse of the ailing Wyandotte. She has not been brutalised, not shredded – just died- pretty little hen.
The three old girls are relauctant to use the shelter but they are learning the benefits. Billy and the girls have no shelter apart from the bare trees and the lee of the rocks. Billy boy chose his spot last night ; I watched him settle below the big birch beside the road and this morning he is still there, chewing the cud like an old sailor in the corner of a bar. The older animals are more comfortable or resigned to this spell of wet and wind but the yearlings who enjoyed a hay-bedded corner of the big shed as last springs calves, have never endured this before and suffer with lowered heads and hunched rears.
The geography of water and land has changed dramaticly overnight. The snow that powdered the slopes like chainstore cosmetics has slipped with the rain into the river spilling over the valley floor. A full flood creates a new inland sea with shores mounting my lower fields: today’s event is enough to fill the dry meanders of the slow river creating new serpentine patterns of water among the low ground pastures. New islands rise to view, where before there were low-ground mounds and more prominent morraines where unwary herders can find their animals trapped for days on end.
Uvie rises on granite towards the crags, so the flood never reaches far but covers the tussocky paddock that is open to Angus Halfhorn, Alice and Demi-Og. They could be trapped if caught sheltering in the willows. To my relief, I find them gathered round the feeder by the improvised tin shed that lost its roof in the summer and was cobbled back together this backend. There is shelter here but it opens to the south with its back to the prevailing wind, and these gales are driving in from that direction so the floor is saturated and ugly, telling me that there will have been little solace for these animals overnight. They are feeding voraciously with an unusual intensity, starting to understand the implications of winter. I wonder about improving their situation so long as Angus and his father Billy continue to apart to avoid fighting.
I jump into the feeder and help them reach the hay in the middle. As I pull the rainsoaked hay to the side, I uncover a layer that is green and dry, smelling of hot summer. The questing animals latch onto this at once as if they too were clinging to a token of change and betterment.

Standard
Farm Life, Highland cattle, Uncategorized, Uvie Farm

creatures of habit

A blowy night with rain lashing the house and the cattle down in the wood. I’m out a tad later, having worked the weekend but not so late as to disturb the clock watchers in fields and sheds; awesomely dependant on a routine that I have established and must maintain. The wind has blown the gate to the calving pen open and Flora has been able to raid the feed store – trampling and knocking stuff over. Mind you I’m not the tidiest so I can make good quick enough, and even succeed in coralling Morag separately for her dose of of cod liver oil. Is it my imagination or is she placing a little more weight on that dodgy rear leg?
These days my approach to the yard is heralded by a fountain of pheasants exploding outwards like a municipal firework display. In the feed shed there is always a little hen pheasant who is taken by surprise every morning, lifts off vertically to clatter against the tin roof before whirring outward like a wizz-bang. There is a regular visitor too who announces himself in the halflight as a blur at the corner of vision, swooping between the hay stack and the old JCB. As the light grows I make him out darting from vantage to vantage along my route attending on different tasks during the day: piling windblown sheets of corrugated iron finds him watching from a peat pile, clearing a windblown hawthorn finds him concealed in the pile of branches. A few days ago, one of high wind and driving rain, I was astonished to find him fluttering past the gate as I went to open it, blown ragged by the gale but dauntless in his opportunism.
I heard David Attenborough today talking about this bird, robin redbreast. Apparently, thousands of years ago, robins learned to follow tribes of pigs, picking over the ground they disturbed. Then as humans became herders, the birds followed the domesticated animals and ultimately transferred allegiance to the herder as provider.
So, I have been adopted, my care of the herd bringing me a shadow asserting an ancient relationship extending many generations behind my current routines- and the return? Nothing more than cheerful companionship.

Good enough.

Standard
Farm Life, Highland cattle, Uvie Farm

the cow who growls

Lynda returned from Inverness with four bags of cattle feed and five litres of cod liver oil. The oil is for Morag the old white cow who growls. The only cow who growls. She is frankly ugly, far from my favourite animal, and yet…
Well, for a start she bred the only champion I have ever shown; Kirsty Morag, top two year old spring 2012 at Oban show and sale. Oban mart is the Mecca of Highland Cattle breeding. To me, Oban is not a quiet coastal town in Argyll, departure point for the ferries to the isles, it is an event. Twice a year the best of the breed are brought together, barbered, shampooed, schooled and presented to compete against their peers. On that one occasion, Kirsty was judged to be the best two year old and I stood at the head of the line.
So, for that moment, if for nothing else I am indebted to the old girl. She is so arthritic that one leg swings uselessly most of the time. I have brought her up to the calving paddock so that she can shelter from the weather inside the shed, but, cussed as she is, she won’t use it.
So I will dose her with cod liver oil in the hope, probably forlorn, that she may survive long enough to drop just one more new beautiful calf that I can parade round the showring in a year or two in honour of one obstinate, long-faced, angular old beast- Morag, the cow who growls.

Standard
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.

Standard