Animal stories, highland landscapes, hillwalking, Living with Nature, Uncategorized, wildlife

Quiet in the evening sun

We use the same path most nights, the Nog and I: he has come to expect it.
We leave the yard by the blacksmith’s gate behind the sheds.
Passing along the old highway dominated by Tom na Cruachan, where the hanging tree stood, use broken down field dykes to negotiate the wet ground , ending at the little lift stile that, sluicelike, permits me over and the Nog beneath.
He sits waiting for the evening traffic to clear when we can cross the road into the braes and birches of the overgrown granite workings.
The tracks that used to carry carts and slow sledges loaded with stone, now trace a single thin line though chesthigh bracken. The Nog precedes me on the path, branching onto invisible scent trails between concealing fronds that tremble and sway as markers of his busyness.

Yesterday’s evening sun lay gently on the thickets of thin trees scrambling up grey rockfaces.

It was pleasant to amble with my face turned upwards-

so I tripped over the Nog rigid on the path, intent on something higher up.

After a time I saw his immobility mirrored by a doe, plain to view but indistinct against a background of branches, leaves and lichens. The Nog  looked in my direction, moving his eyes only, questioning:

as clearly as I could I signalled:
‘You go for it if you like but you know you don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of catching a full grown roe deer so if I were you don’t even think of it, but if you want make an idiot of yourself &c &c-‘
-or thoughts to that effect.
And he listened!
– and trotted comfortably off down the path;
while the doe gathered herself to vault a fallen trunk

and eased herself

silently from sight.

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Animal stories, Farm Accommodation, farm bunkhouse, Farm Life, Highland cattle, Living with Nature, Uncategorized

Peace returning

A muted complaint alerts me to a mallard couple
splootering contentedly in the roadside ditch;
they watch cautiously as the Nog and I pass.
Higher up the hill roe deer twins
delicate and angular
are not so sanguine, ears pricked intently
as the Nog settles on the crag while I descend.
I keep his attention until calling him down to
chase me beyond the fence,
freeing the calves to bound back to shelter.
A curlew slides past, as if following an invisible aerial contour
and settles ahead of us yammering its liquid call:
challenging by serenade.

Returned to the farm, I can find no threat:
George, deprived of milk and too small for the trough, is watered,
and noses the Nog without concern.
The cattle are at the new grass,
and the housemartens dart among the eaves.
Image

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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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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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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 Life, Highland cattle, Uncategorized

Reculer pour mieux sauter

The Roundhouse creaks in the storm, ticking and cracking with small reports like a Borrower’s gun battle -a southwesterly is blowing against the walls, shed sideways by the curvature but catching under the overhanging eaves where it jockeys for purchase, attempting to lift the roof clean away from the wallhead,

It is one of the problems of my self- build: ignorance is bliss-

-but I know every nail.

By morning, the world is completely calm – and stays that way: something to enjoy, especially by contrast with the violence of the night before.
I am content to wait therefore while Moira, massive and uneasy with calf, finishes the nuts I have poured for her separately (it takes her so long to catch up to the trough). Angus Halfhorn finishes before Moira has set to, but he can only glare at me in bemusement through the grille of the gate that I closed to prevent him muscling in.
I can only sit on the quad and watch her eat; even the Nog sits – and watches me sitting. There is no wind, little sound- the world waits for an elderly cow to finish her feed- when I can race the Nog to the gate at the top of the field.
I visit twice more, and still no developments- finally to the top shed to watch the girls. They are contentedly gathered round the feeder – stocking up for the night ahead. The two calves are the only occupants of the field; secure in each other’s company despite the three month age gap- black Abby’s boy is twice the size of Demi-Og’s infant.
This little subset of the Uvie family is feeding peacefully: it is a simple thing to share with animals partnering my daily life.

The sky is quiet, crisscrossed with a chinoiserie of bare birch branches and twigs. Birds are singing – robins, chaffinches, a blackbird. I can hear them but not see them. Behind the shed stands a taller birch, surmounted by a single bird outlined on the smallest, tallest twig -like a christmas angel. The music continues – until a sudden passage of sharp clicks gives the game away. This is a starling, seemingly imitating other birds, seeking pre-eminence, perched higher than the others, beak lifted to the sky, fearless and loud, filling the quiet evening air like a concert hall.
The gate bangs against the bin as I swing it open- when I look up the tree is empty, the performance finished.

As I walk down the road, I find it hard to tell silence from music.

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Farm Life, hillwalking, Living with Nature, Uncategorized, Uvie Farm

Alone on the hill?

There is nothing up the hill behind the farm. Nothing to excite or entertain. No homes, people, vehicles, livestock, few trees.
This time of year the grass is yellow and flat, water lies softening the peat, the heather is dark and low.
Today uniform grey cloud slices the tops from the hills; the wind drives hard across the open hill, snow lies in pockets like hoofmarks, clings in stubborn banks on north faces.
I force myself from the shelter of the farm. The wind hits as I leave the path circling Sarah Justina’s memorial, the last outpost.
I cut straight up the hill to reach the ridge at its lowest point, heading for the high ground, the Nog ambushing me on steeper inclines.
And we’re not alone. A shape slides behind the border of ancient pines as we reach the watershed – and then reveals itself – the outspread arc of a monitoring eagle. The eyrie is back in the trees – perhaps the henbird is sitting in the untidy stack of twigs lodged in a fork. I have seen her before, but this is another bird, smaller, probably male.
I watch the near horizon carefully as the Nog ranges. He is the colour and size of a roe calf: eagles eat roe calves. I call him closer- the dynamic has changed.
We are now the hunted.
I relax as we progress toward the back hills.
The Nog ranges backwards and forwards as generations of his ancestors have done.
I catch up with my father and grandfather- who walked here before me.
Coming back down the hill, we do not return.
We re-enter.

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Farm Accommodation, farm bunkhouse, Uncategorized

Hiding from the wind

The wind is still blowing tonight – chilling me through my clothes. The new calf has none – just rich red curls.
Highland cattle have two winter coats – the longhaired outer shedding the rain sheltering a tight thermal fleece covering of thick fine hair. The babies won’t grow the longer coat until next winter. They rely on maximum insulation to survive the dangerous early days of life.
The new lad has plenty of character, assisting endurance of early hardships. He is alone in the field when I walk round for my evening inspection- close to the field gate where I have been herding him and Demi Og for special treatment penned cosily under cover. I wonder if his instincts are confirming my intention to cosset him for the first week or two.
I have been cossetting myself today.
After my morning round with no new babies appeared, I head back into the house- and stay there.
My excuse is that I have to complete the changeover from last weekend’s guests; but really I’m hiding from the wind- in the roundhouse accompanied by the woodburner- and the Nog snoring on the sofa.
So I’m ironing – in a vigorous, manly sort of way, of course. Duvet covers, pillowcases, fitted sheets –O those fitted sheets! It’s done though, by lunch – so I have time to make up the bunkhouse before my evening round.
After seeing the little lad back to his mum (he ignored her – another sign of character) – I check up on Moira in the bottom paddock. She is gathered with Angus Halfhorn and Alice in a strange tight triangular clot by the fence- the kind of anomaly that is always worth checking. Cattle are highly inquisitive so their presence at an event or accident will be the first indication of something worth looking into, As it happens there is no drama – but Moira’s obsessive scratching probably means that she is getting ready to shed the living burden that is giving her so much discomfort.
Back at the yard Demi-Og appears around the corner of the shed as I open the gate, and then disappears like a Miss Marple curtain twitcher – she has lost her boy.
I find him before she does –
inside the shed-
-sheltering from the wind.

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Farm Accommodation, Farm Life, farm visitors, Highland cattle, hillwalking, Uncategorized

Back and forward to the future

Today the cows are peaceful, the two bull calves are stotting in the sun– and I didn’t walk up the hill with the Nog as intended.
Sunday morning is for housework – fair enough – Sunday afternoon was for walking , skirting by Sarah Justina’s monument standing on the apron of Creag Dhubh, and straight up to the ridge that forms my northern horizon. Beyond there lies the back country.

As one walks, the present day recedes – to be replaced by something immediate.

With one’s back to the farm, the road and the river, one crosses the first waste, where the ‘dry loch’ tells a story of caught glacial water released when the barrier at the lower end gave way, leaving a horseshoe of upland bog.
Down to the old road in Dalbhalloch- now used by hikers and hunters only – ending at the lost village of Dal-na- sealg (Dalnashallach) where one house is maintained as a bothy.
Then further out and up to the Monadhliath plateau – kind to neither man nor beast – the first landmass – and realm of the great god Pan.-
-but I wasn’t there today.
Instead I was facing towards the future.
The two buildings on the farm, roundhouse and bunkhouse, are all electric – with a ground sourced heatpump for heating and hotwater, with the plan to become self-sufficient in power. As technology changes , this closing of the sustainability loop has been getting closer. Most solutions, however, involve laborious administration and big outlays to meet the demands of government incentives.
Zeno and Celine, with a company involved in generating by windpower, put shape to my intentions; confirming the option of self-installation without official intervention or incentive.
A day of progress therefore if not forward motion of the kind the Nog and I enjoy.
Pregnant ladies still need checking over, little Alice and Holly need more hay; Demi-Og and the lad are happy now to donder up to the shed to be shut in for the night..
-and, in the bottom paddock, Moira stands and shifts her weight, patiently preparing to calve- maybe tonight.

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