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

Spring into summer

George Halfcalf gets himself stuck behind the fence separating Logan’s meadow, where the main herd luxuriates in the new grass, from the coarse whitegrass and rashes of the wee lochain, beloved of waterfowl.
Winter is over now- not because the leaves are on the trees (apart from the aspens, still gaunt and grey), but because I no longer start the day with a feed-round.
The year does not divide into separate apartments though; I do not step through the door of spring into the renewed world. It moves like a travellator at an airport. After staggering through the dark and cold, lugging baggage, I suddenly step onto a moving belt surging towards the departure gate, blinking and off-balance.                                                                          The martens work in squads,                                        the swallows in pairs,

and I work alone –                                                                  all of us building, relishing the damp warmth lifting vapour from the burgeoning growth at ground level. The birds collect mud from puddles: I collect plasterboard from Inverness.

The birds pick dry moss off the rocks: I buy packs of rockwool. I’m halfway home with the  loaded cattle  trailer before I realise I left them behind.

We all move forward; no-one must be left behind.
George wobbles through the gate, setting out across the lengthening grass.

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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 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 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 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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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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