Animal stories, Highland cattle

Running on empty

O dear, I’m not popular. Before setting Ali loose on the animals at the weekend, I dropped a new bale in two ring feeders – at the calving paddock and the hard standing.They are both due for a refill – well, almost.
Normally I would wait for the inaccessible fodder to collect in the centre of the ring like a termite mound, then pull it and heel it against the metal sides. Here even the horned animals can reach easily through the gaps in the tombstone feeders to catch the last of the bale. With the floor clear I am ready to tip in the next precious 4×4 roundbale.

Now, because I topped up at the weekend, there is still the residue from the previous bale to finish.
I grew up with small square bales (long before the big round bales took over I remember thinking- how on earth do you stack them? – a bit like seeing the new diesel locomotives lined up alongside the steam trains – Nah, they’ll never catch on)- and I still measure my wealth in hay by the small bale standard – I reckon I have two such clogging the base of the feeder. Too much to waste.
But it’s acid and rank, parts of it mildewed and heating up- not good for stomach or lungs. The animals pick at it, and stand looking at me expectantly, waiting for me to crack.
But these are hardy animals – bred for thin fare on bare winter hills.
Toughen up guys, you’re highlanders after all – what do you expect? – horse hay?

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Highland cattle

The first day of winter

Ice smears the ground this morning. The air is still. The animals have their heads down on the Apron but I shall feed them today. This marks the start of winter, establishing the pattern that will prevail until the new grass.

The digger is mute and cold – its old engine will not start under its own power so I hook up the charger and squirt juice into the air filter. It turns grudgingly and apparently on its dying revolution fires into life. I let it run for a while, use the time to drain the field roller of water to avoid bursting the welds under the pressure of expanding ice. Picking up the first bale end-on, I drop it to come in sideways, entering offcentre to allow for the skewed pallet fork I bent swinging too fast past a tree, and head down to the hardstanding. The plastic covering the ends of the round bale is cut & I slash hard along the front just above the forks, and pull both wrap and net back against the bucket, tying it to the fork bars. Lifting and tilting I drop the bale and the grass is freed from its covering which now hangs like an untidy flag from my loose knot. The smell of part fermented grass is on my hands now – not a haybale’s wistful reminder of summer but something with sourer notes, reassuring nonetheless.

Returning with a tombstone feeder balanced on the forks, I find that Billy has rammed the bale as though a rival, shifting it several feet unrolling as it goes. A good part of the feed is now at risk from being trampled and lost. Yelling at the delinquent veteran  I hoop the feeder over the bale, reversing to pull it into position like landing a fish. I jump down to pull out as much of I can of the fringe of silage projecting from the ring, while avoiding Billy swinging his horns at marauders.

Taking the second bale to Angus halfhorn and the girls goes smoothly enough, but feed is not enough: I have to ensure their water supply. A few days ago, one of the animals had fallen in the water trough, breaching it. I installed a replacement but finished in darkness and only discovered later that the ballvalve was not closing the incoming supply. The well had emptied but more importantly the pump was hunting for water in the dry borehole and might burn out, leaving the farm waterless. Stripped to my shirtsleeves I feel in the cold water for the machine screw retaining the float, and reset it

Farm duties done, I can now set about some paid employment.

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