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

Market day – barely.

Market day today – broken sleep guarranteed. I dream of missing holiday flights – in fact missing holiday airport.
The routine needs reversing so Moira and the boy get dealt with before the other animals get fed. It takes too long, but finally they are out to the field and I can bring the boys up to the yard and select the three to take, shedding the younger ones.
Back down to pick up the trailer.
It’s not there.
It’s been stolen.
Phone the mart, the police –
aaah-
I left it on site at the Pottery ready to load for recycling.
I’m going to be late – but nothing for it.Jump in the truck, down to the Pottery, hitch up and back again.

Reverse into the yard, adjust the gates for loading the boys – hope they co-operate.

Three of them, half a ton apiece, and me.

They have always been well treated so I don’t shout or hit them – just confine them using the gates, and, with a little encouragement they find their way into the mobile tin can that is going to ship them away from the only home they have ever known.
Driving the main road south, I control my speed while calculating just how late I am going to be. They won’t be sold at the start so I have a little leeway – fifteen minutes in should be okay – half an hour even – longer?

I might even have to turn round and take them home.
It has taken more than two years to prepare them for this day
and
I’m
LATE.

Stirling mart is hidden at the back of an industrial estate: I don’t know the route well. I refer to a Google earth print-out after leaving the motorway.

It is wrong.
After the first roundabout I am lost. I return to pick up the route. I am still lost. I just drive on, hauling my trailer full of patient highland cattle through the byzantine traffic systems, mini roundabouts and leafy suburbs of a city I have no knowledge of. I tell myself to trust in what my mother termed a ‘bump of locality’- an instinctive sense of direction. I am supposed to have a good one.
I finally ease to a halt at a filling station. The lady at the till looks hopeless when I ask her the way to the auction mart-
then-
‘Which one?’
‘er- the old one?’
‘O that’s first left, over the roundabout, through the traffic lights, over the next roundabout: it’s on the right between the Renault and Nissan garages.


Angels are also those with a good local knowledge. She’s right – perfectly.
Cattle sold – back up the road – job done.

The truck breaks down fifteen miles from home.

Could have been worse.
Could have been on the way down.

 

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Animal stories, farm bunkhouse, Highland cattle, highland landscapes, hillwalking, Living with Nature, Uncategorized, Uvie Farm

Ridge world

Old roads, half hidden, carry ghost traffic up the hill.

Carts hauled by small horses coaxed up the zigzags eased over the years by a stone placed here to support a slope, an incline there dug level. At one point where two drains meet in a small gully at the base of the climb to the ridge, tumbled stones mark the remains of a handbuilt dam protecting a ford where the vehicles might cross. I take a moment to study the contours to check the extent of the lagoon that would be created by such a barrier: but it’s too long gone.
The Nog is waiting above, I turn to follow.
The hill divides as we arrive at the crest where a fence separates sheep pasture from genuine moorland. The Nog finds the low section and jumps over, follows the peat road crossways, runs forward and then halts – winding something.
I come up to the near edge of the plateau to find him intent on the near horizon.

A herd of fifty red deer enjoy the calm of late afternoon. Hinds and calves graze with their heads down in the dead ground below. The breeze at their backs gives them no warning: they are unaware of our presence. The ridge above is lined with stags, mature beasts with full antlers. They have seen us but at this time of the year are not too alarmed – just enough to lift their heads to face us full on. Some are standing, showing the full mass of their powerful bodies silhouetted. Others remain prone, swivelling their necks, heads outlined against the distant snowy slopes of the Monadhliath foothills.

The antlers rise towards the hazy blue of the sky in a symmetrical bow like a prayer: alert ears extend along  horn reinforcing the base of cupped void like petals against a stem.

As I move forward, they gather and turn. Arrived at the position they have abandoned I find them strung out to the far horizon, watching but unconcerned.

The lead stag, a royal, waits down the hil, alone – assessing when to rejoin the herd.

Standing here I have a view round three quarters of the snowfields bounding the horizon. A chill breeze breathes from the north east but the sun is warm mitigated by a storm haze that sends windwracked clouds floating overhead like aquatic mammals.

Down at the farm a small red calf is waiting to be let in to the night pen.

I call in the Nog as I turn to descend.

With luck he ‘ll be able to run further tomorrow.

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Animal stories, Chooks, farm bunkhouse, Farm Life, Highland cattle, Uncategorized, Uvie Farm

Lone Journey

 

A large and lonely bird flies south toward Drumochter pass.

I spied the same angular profile heading the other way midweek; the local paper confirms what I thought at the time. A large bird was spotted at Dalwhinnie struggling to rise from the water of the loch with a fish in its talons:-

the osprey is back.

O – and so is another fisherbird – the oyster catcher – glimpsed from my south windows drifting down towards the river to find grubs and hidden sandy hollows for nesting.

The yard too fills with birds. The chooks are competing with pheasants, mallards, and lots of lively chaffinches whose songs festoon the still bare birch branches.

And I encourage  life in a small calf.

This evening he stands head lowered, unresponsive to the advances of Holly’s bright white heifer – fit enough though to follow his mother up to the yard, and the comfort of the pen they have grown used to overnighting in.

Tonight is different.

Once they are both safely penned, I inveigle Moira through to the shared part of the shed and trap little man behind. She can see him, lie alongside – but he has to fend for himself til morning.

There is just a chance he will do this-

there has been a small change.

Moira waits in the handling crate for me to strip her of this morning’s load. Her little lad is nosing round the yard, including the tub of mineral lick – he sniffs it in his usual dopey way –

and licks! –

and again, lifting his head with sticky mineral goo dripping from his chin.
I set down the tub by me while milking, knowing that curiosity will bring him over, even drop some calf muesli into it. By the time I have finished so has he- the smooth brown surface of the lick is clear of grain.

So tonight he is alone; separate from his mother –
and if he gets hungry-

perhaps for the first time he knows what to do.

 

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

Sleepy knowing

Three swans display on the lochain, dipping heads rhythmically on long necks. Spring comes on like a slow download- and I am sitting against a hay bale entangled with a recalitrant baby.
Moira and her calf are standing in the pen first thing, but he continues to show no interest in feeding.
After seeing to the rest of the herd I push the pair across the yard – pen her, kidnap him and settle him in the hay.
After a few routine skimishes that leave me looking furtively out the door to see if anyone is observing just how much dignity can be lost in handling a small animal, I achieve some control.
Moira’s baby is draped over my outstretched left leg, my right is laid over his stomach. My left arm encircles the front of his chest my hand propping his head: the bottle is in my right. It holds three litres of beautiful yellow first milk expressed from his mother yesterday – my arm is beginning to shake. He holds the teat in his mouth; I hold the bottle in place in case he decides to start sucking. My back hurts.
At least he’s relaxed – his breathing is deeper, his eyes are closed not staring. The bottle is in place

– and he’s snoring.

This is not part of the plan- and yet, as he sleeps his mouth moves on the teat, every now and then his throat contracts as a few drops of milk slide down it.
Awake – and he loses the knowledge.
So no progress today – I use the stomach tube again, holding him fiercely as a full 11/2 litres of milk makes its way down the tube and into his belly. I remove the tube as he collapses into the hay – I do the same, staring up at the beams where the chookies roost. Recovering first – I persuade him that he’s not dead and slide the door back. He follows into the daylight where his mother is waiting to walk with him down to the field.
For the first time, he stays on his feet, shows interest in the other animals. He is stronger.
Mid – afternoon and Holly has calved. Her baby goes straight to her belly even before being licked clean – she looks like she has been brushed with egg yolk.
And she is feeding.

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Chooks, Farm Life, Highland cattle, Uncategorized, Uvie Farm

I will lift mine eyes -(given half a chance..)

Today I have the specific to observe-

-and the general.
Specifically, I am keeping a close eye on Moira’s new baby. Strong and well-set, he won’t stay that way for long if he doesn’t make use of his mother’s swollen udder.
And that’s part of the problem – she is so big that her teats are almost touching the ground: they are certainly dragging in the mud around the feeder. So they not only stick out rigidly from the bag like the spikes on a beached mine,
-but they are covered in unsavoury clart.
I move her up from the bottom field, walking quietly behind the pair in the sunshine. Where she goes, he follows- so I just guide her gently up the slope away from the paddock, through the stott’s field, and up the road to the yard. I am impressed as usual by the stamina of the newborn – this is a massive trek for something tiny and new.
I hurry him through the gates into the handling crate and then duck out of it pushing him ahead knowing that she will be chasing after me. Once she is locked in I squeeze down some milk for each teat, it comes easily – but the boy won’t take it.
Sometimes instinct just isn’t enough. I close them in the calving pen for the night, he sucks gleefully
– on her tail.
More work for the morning- unless the confined space of the pen concentrates their minds.
So much for the specific-

-there is also the general –
– all-round observation, checking the sky-
-which is clear.
All day.
There
is
not
a
single
cloud.

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