Farm Life, Highland cattle, highland landscapes, Living with Nature, Uncategorized

I prepared the field last night, hauling the chain harrow to spread dung and molehills.
This morning is perfect for rolling.

A heavy mist covers the house allowing a luminous glow through the windows-

assurance of a cloudless sky.

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There has been no rain overnight, but the grass is so heavy with moisture it splashes on my face as I trundle the lines back and forward across the field, deep green

then silvery

then green again.

The mist lifts as I progress, revealing sunshine on the upper part of Creag Dubh,

its lower slopes still veiled as if for modesty.

By the time I finish my skin is chilled,

the smell of crushed grass fills my nostrils;

small rainbows hide in thinning vapour.

The day is opening.

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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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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-
again.
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,

draw

and release

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

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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.

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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 Life, farm visitors, Living with Nature, Uncategorized, wildlife

Bird in the box

Today the halfcalf finds his own way inside the shed.
It doesn’t mean that he will co-operate in taking milk on board-
but it is affirmation of a kind.

He and mother have learned to expect a tub of concentrate at bedtime.
I split this – so that he is able to feed alongside Moira rather than competing with her
and getting his head jammed in the bucket when she lowers hers.

The tubs are empty mineral lick containers- roughly 18″ by 12″ by 8″ deep. Both are upside down – this is not uncommon as the animals kick them over on leaving the pen.
Any feed left inside will be polished off by chickens and wild birds, tipping the lightweight container to reach the contents.

I upend the first tub – a feathered brown firework explodes in a manic blur that shoots across the yard and into the sky. A hen pheasant had managed to tip the bucket over, trapping herself.
It is so extraordinary and unexpected that I don’t have time to be surprised or shocked;  just carry on with the chores.
I tip the second one upright.

A female mallard makes her escape.

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

squeezed out & dried up

It’s rained all day.
Footering about the house.
No Sunday walk for the Nog.
At 4.30 I spot Moira up at the yard – she’s had enough. Her frail baby is with her- bedraggled, head down.
I open up the pen and set some food for both. Moira comes through the gate and turns aside to steal food from the store bag as she normally does. Her baby follows and batters ineffectually at her head to allow him in.
She ignores him, of course – but his new found assertion is a good sign.
I groan.
I can’t put them in yet.
He needs more after a day like this.
Fill a bucket, rattle it at Moira. She follows into the handling pen. Push the boy in close the gate. Down to the house to pick up the bottle and a kilner jar. Back up to the yard, push her round into the race: she enters easily and waddles down to the crate, ready to be relieved of her burden. Close the door. Squeeze the tit – slow to begin and then squirting easily into the jar-on to the next until full.
Shunt him inside the shed. Pour the milk into the bottle; teat on the top. Catch him between my legs with his rear backed into a corner. Open his mouth with my finger, insert the teat. He takes small sucks.
I squeeze the bottle.
He swallows.
I squeeze, he swallows.
He should be pulling at the fluid -a healthy calf will empty a bottle in seconds.
I squeeze..
I am determined that he will take the full amount of warm milk decanted into the Evian bottle chosen for the purpose at the local Co-Operative store.
I have a failsafe – I can always tube the milk into his stomach- but I risk inflaming his gullet –
better squeeze & swallow.

And I stick to the task –                                                                                                      the last drops disappear into the teat.

The bottle is almost unrecognisable – wrung out like a dishcloth.

He’s fed –
but wet.

If he gets chilled in this condition it will kill him.
I have a blowdrier and brush nearby for the showcattle.
I dry and brush him end to end. I have done the same with many fine Highland cattle –
never with one like this-

small and ratty-
this is not for showing-
it’s for saving.Image

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Animal stories, Farm Accommodation, farm bunkhouse, farm visitors, Highland cattle, Uncategorized

Dysfunctional – unless it works

Changeover day – new guests in: so house cleaning today – with the added complication of filling the water tanks manually since the borehole pump failed on Thursday, but first-
Moira’s calf.
A calf who doesn’t like milk.
A calf who refuses everything suitable that I offer him.
A calf who is still standing.
I now split Moira’s feed into two buckets: I know he will compete with her, copy her, and she will make no concessions.

This gives him a few more precious mouthfuls.

He takes a few feeble licks from the mineral tub, sucks from the bottle of rehydration salts that I hold in his mouth for a good twenty minutes. I can feel his bones as I sit with my leg pinning him down in the hay.

He is building no muscle, no meat.
Tell the truth, he never will-
if he lives.

He follows his mother out of the yard and down the farm road. I catch glimpses of the pair at different spots during the day, much of it in the small clearing in the birches above the house. I haven’t seen them here before. It means they are foraging more widely.

The casual oberver would see nothing amiss: mother and calf moving steadily across the pasture, heads down. A stockman would immediately feel discomfort at this behaviour, the size of the calf, the cow’s swollen udders.
It’s not right-
and yet he’s there all day –                                                                                             moving munch                                                                                                                         by tiny munch –                                                                                                                         of thin untimely grass.

As the windy afternoon fades, he and his mother return to the yard, ready to be penned for the night.
Waiting.

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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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farm bunkhouse, Farm Life, Highland cattle, Living with Nature, new birth, Uncategorized

An easy day for starters

My first fear of the day is the state of the half calf.
Will he be breathing, standing?
He is standing.
Will he, following some unfathomable bovine epiphany, have sucked from his mother?
He hasn’t; he won’t.
Alive though-
and-
strangely-
competing with his mother for nuts.

These are for grown animals, finishing-nuts, suckling-mother nuts – but here he is with his head stuck into her bucket. When she leans into it to reach the dark grains, she wedges his head inside so he has to wriggle loose.                                                                                                    Somehow this behaviour is reassuring though he is very feeble –

and small-

not growing and fattening like his brothers and his little white sister who is too busy running and jumping to get fatter.
Last night I watched the Nog gallop across the hayfield:

and her galloping after –                                                                                               looking to play.

So I am more relaxed as I quad the bags down to the boys on the hardstanding, and then to Angus halfhorn and Alice in the aspen paddock below-

and she’s calved.

I had forgotten to anticipate this- it has been so long awaited.
And suddenly it’s here –

the newborn

wet and already nuzzling her mother’s stomach-                                                       her instincts are true.

Yes, it’s a heifer- since Alice was bought in from Dingwall mart, I will be able to breed from her in three years.
No time to enjoy her now- I left the gates open on the way down.
But –
for all that-
Welcome, little one.
The day is kind for beginnings.

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Animal stories, Farm Accommodation, Farm Life, farm visitors, Highland cattle, highland landscapes, hillwalking, Living with Nature, Uncategorized

Highland Spring

The drama is in the day.
Mild and easy when I put out the feed this morning, the wind starts up mid morning, It is strong but not a storm – a sailors wind, sending vessels scudding.
I have no vessel to scud – so this squall is merely inconvenient, blowing the cement from my shovel before I can fill the mixer-
but not threatening like so many that shake the buildings of a winter night like some nordic ogre.
I am inside when the rain hits the window sliding down half melted. It puts paid to the long walk I have promised the Nog today.
When it stops we leave the house.
At the entrance to the yard, two hundred yards away, the starving half -calf stops on the road and looks back at us as if beckoning. I feed him as efficiently as I can and pen him for the night with mother. She is laden with milk, inaccessible to him through some esoteric interdict of his own choosing.
Colours are clear in the water laden air, distance inviting. On the small summit I watch broken cloud driven across blue sky. To the west the sun is splintered by ragged cloud profiles sending shafts of light earthwards. There is rain coming in, lit with diffused radiance that conceals the shapes of the hills as much as illuminates so that they appear in silhoutte like two dimensional cut outs arranged in series, receding towards unseen summits.
A bird of prey holds itself up in the wind- a crisp profile like a keyhole in space. I run up the brace to stand on the fencepost squinting into the wind in an attempt to identify the bird. My eyes are watering so that I can’t see the ground and have to guess the distance to jump down.
From here I can see that the pasture of the farm is greening slightly, that Alice has not yet calved, that the weekend guests have departed.
A rainbow strikes the far ridge and curves over towards Creag Dubh, spanning the farm.

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