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

The newcomer

Al and I arrive back at the Roundhouse to offload the cattle trailer. It is full, not of cattle but of timber cleared from the building site at the Pottery Coffee Shop. We pile it against the granite bedrock rearing out of the ground behind the house. I aim to burn this in the company of friends on a fine evening.
This late afternoon is golden without the fire- undoubtedly the best day of the year, sunny and still.
As we work I become aware that the stotts- the young males- are gathered at the far end of the field, captivated by events out of view. They have been posturing with Angus Halfhorn on the other side of the fence, but this time they are not roaring and Billy is displaying no interest in any male displays.

They gather in a group craning over the fence like boys outside a circus.

I cannot afford to ignore a signal like this: so drop my task and cross the field to join the spectators. In the corner against the wood Angus Halfhorn, Alice and Moira are knotted, mobile, circling – indistinguishable one from another. Moira breaks out from the huddle and, after a moment, I understand the reason for the disturbance. There are four animals here, not three – she has given birth. The newcomer is already active on unsteady legs- a bullcalf as I find out a moment later.
She has a massive bag, the baby is strong, the sky is clear. it will be cold tonight and he may not suck. The frost will form on his infant back, he will curl shivering – but he will live, God willing.

Tomorrow I will find whether I need to intervene for his welfare; for tonight- I will leave it to Moira.

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Animal stories, Farm Life, Uncategorized, Uvie Farm

Simple, this living business

I fill a bucket with hot water to take up to the yard. Demi Og’s new baby will be hungry. I left him penned with his mother overnight. Born yesterday morning, he didn’t feed all the first day. It went like this:- (slow fade…)
He was ready to get to his feet within half an hour of birth – she, raging with hormones, knocks him over as if uncertain whether to lick him all over or kebab him. When she does finally allow him to his feet, and he goes for the tit, she turns to face him like a threat: no access to milk bar for junior.
I herd them along the field into the yard so as to keep a closer eye; she leads off, he follows on what must seem a marathon for legs a few hours old. As he follows, the udder beomes available so he closes in.
She kicks him in the head.
Every time she feels his inquisition on her flank, she lashes out in irritation.
At the yard, I decide to intervene – not my favourite option: left to themselves they will probably get it right – but I have an opportunity to work her into the handling crate. This means kidnapping the calf and bundling him down the race to the crate and crawling out before she can catch up. Only she doesn’t follow.
Unsettled by the newness of everything that has occurred she stops halfway into the race and calls him back, only lurching down the steel avenue when little Holly and Alice come over to inspect the newcomer. They are delighted at the new member of the family, nuzzling and licking him – finally jealousy drives the new mother towards him and I catch her in the crate.
Where she stands quietly. I can’t believe it: she has been anything but quiet since first thing and now, trapped, estranged from her baby, she is quiet. She doesn’t even twitch when I reach for the nearest teat and offer it to her hungry son.
Who refuses it- and continues to invest all his energy in pulling away from the lifegiving udder while I insert a teat, squirt milk on his nose, rub his throat, coat milk on my finger, part fill a bottle and offer that. All to no good.
Finally, both of us exhausted, I strip out the milk from all four teats to avoid infection, keeping the cholosterum rich liquid for later, and release both animals into the yard.
He goes straight to the the teat.
She kicks him in the head.
I pen them in: they will spend the night hours together and in the morning he will be very, very hungry.
And so he is- as I approach with the bucket of warm water and drop the bottle of first milk into it in preparation for the next step in the campaign- very hungry.
He heads straight for the udder; she stands still while he feeds. Couldn’t be simpler.
I watch them longer than I need- before attending to the other animals.

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

First minutes

Demi Og does not attend the morning feed. Shy, sulking or something else? She stands in the corner by the new gate holding her tail stiffly. Trough filled, greedy horned eaters avoided -I walk down to inspect.
There is a rosy cord stretched behind her – her waters have broken. I open the new gate to the hayfield, and close it behind her. There is less shelter here but she’ll avoid the invasive curiosity of her peers. A foot suddenly protrudes from her rear and recedes – front surely – I do not want to have to turn a bumfirst baby.
I must be quick to feed the others. Holly and Alice fed, cleaned and a bolster of hay rammed into the rack – and down to the stotts- across the field this time – keeping an eye on Demi Og. She walksto the far corner – stops – a nose appears alongside one foot. So it’s facing frontwards – is the other leg forward or back? If the baby is caught on the shoulder it could be tough. I keep my distance – not wanting to push her further.
This is her first time – she was bought four months ago, in calf to a bull of quality, who is throwing big calves. It may be hard on her but if the baby is female it will mean another breeder for the farm’s future.
She drops to ground as I climb the fence to the stotts – electrocuting myself- (I forgot setting a booby trap to deter Billy from invading Angus Halfhorn’s terrain).
As I return on the quad she stands again – the calf is coming. It slides out rolled and packaged like a carpet – the nose has broken the membrane and is clear, but I still open the mouth to pull out anything that will inhibit the first breath.
Which doesn’t come.
The calf is a lifeless lump of matter. I was too late. She was too long.
I massage the slimy little chest – no reaction. I check the little body for injury: none apparent. The head lies flat to the ground, eyes closed; body limp, legs still folded.
I massage again – rocking the body to wake it- the head lolls
– and then arcs backwards to draw a breath.
Half a minute later it is moving its legs, preparing to stand. The cord connecting the two is strong and short – putting pressure on the baby’s stomach. No knife – this once – no knife in my pocket! I tease the cord free from her with my hands.

Demi Og  has been sitting quietly so far but now turns to face this squirming wriggly thing, puts down her head and… roars full in its face, roars as if to sound the world’s end, to summon the dead; roars in shock, rage, astonishment, pain and pride. Little one promptly subsides terrified- rightly so as the mad maternal monster looming above cannot decide whether to lick this thing or pitch it over her horns like a bundle of hay.

Once it is clear that she is not intent on infanticide I can leave them- but the weather intervenes. The open field is strafed by barbs of sleet riding a stiff westerly – baby is still birthwet because Demi is licking in patches- like stamps- not cleaning end to end- and shivering. If  little one moves towards her udder she turns head on – little chance of satisfaction there.
I gun the quad to pick up the trailer, scissors, iodine – throw in some armfuls of hay and head back, parking the trailer to windward and dropping a windbreak of hay. Avoiding the still roaring madmother I snip the overlong cord and spray it brown.  Eventually the calf settles, still shivering. I am released for breakfast.
I take stock only as I enter into the warmth: it’s a boy.

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Highland cattle, Uncategorized, Uvie Farm

New day – and the colour is black

New day – new set of legs on the hardstanding- four small ones- black. Abbie has produced the first calf of the year, taking me by surprise. A few days ago she was battering heads with the stotts in the brief sunshine – and early this morning she popped out a nice black calf who is now wobbling about among the others, but perfectly competent on his feet. I know its a ‘him’ after getting close.
It is a beautiful morning, but for me the best is that the weather poses no threat to the new baby. His birth fluid has been licked off by mum, working methodically end to end, and there is no new rain to chill him, so he is free to find his way among his older half-brothers. Abbie is not too happy about this, as one after the other the stotts introduce themselves, already inviting him to play. He responds with some little jumps and kicks- a good lively lad even at a few hours old.
Abbie will not stand still while there is so much activity, Unless she does, he will not feed. She needs to stand for him while he blunders around the underside of her belly, between her legs, bumping into her shoulder, until finally his pursed mouth finds one swollen teat, latches on and she can release the warm jets of lifegiving milk.

But that doesn’t look like happening- so I must intervene.

Abbie’s attempts to avoid the stotts take her close to the gate at the bottom of the Apron. I run down with the quad, let her out of the field keeping her pursuers at bay, and then back to the shed for some feed to lure her up to the yard

– but she won’t have it.

Nor – for that matter- will he, now slumped in the rushes, exhausted by his first few hours of life.

I reckon this won’t do him too much harm – so decide to leave them alone for now and race the quad back to the yard, with the Nog sprinting ahead once I’ve convinced him that I’ll run him down, yes I really will, if he slows down.
I set up a pen for the mother and child adjacent to the three old dears: Flora, Morag and Moira. Here they can get used to each other, but the older cows can’t interfere with or even bully the new arrival, who can concentrate on what he needs to do: feed.
Doesn’t happen though. The baby is more interested in sleeping than feeding. By the afternoon, if he didn’t feed early morning before my arrival, he has missed the 12 hour window for the first milk, rich in yellow cholosterum, that will safeguard against infection for the rest of his life.
Perhaps I should intervene, but the truth is I would rather hold back, even against veterinary advice. In the main, these hardy, natural animals sort themselves out. My involvement turns a natural event to some kind of emergency.

Little lad is now bedded down on the hay dropped over the gate for his mum. She has been fed, and drained a pail of water,(producing milk is thirsty work) and that is all for now.
In the morning it may be different.

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