Animal stories, Farm Life, Highland cattle, Living with Nature, Uncategorized

Wild wetnursing

So the British always talk about the weather – but today’s was strange and wild.
I leave the house in heavy rain- kitted up for warmth and waterproofing as if for a moonlanding. By the time I park at the shed, it is dry again; but the wind is blowing, in fact it is howling, thrashing the trees, tugging at the building fabric.
During the morning the hail piles up against the door and melts as it slides down the long windows of the conservatory.
At lunch, after putting out a fresh bale of silage for the pregnant ladies in the calving paddock, I walk down to check up on Moira, who threatens to calve any time soon.The sky clears blue, but the wind still drives strong and cold with snow on it. The day feels energetic and strange like an autistic child.
And this is why the weather is today’s story.
The welfare of any calves born now is subject to the tyranny of this erratic cradling. After a long delay in the anticipated births, I live with imminence – the presence of something yet to happen.
The calculus of this changeable season changes utterly dependant on whether somewhere on the farm, or in more than one place, a mother has dropped a damp parcel of newness onto cold ground.

She will turn and lick furiously to help lift the lifesaving pelt-

-while a quivering spirit determines whether to struggle, endure or submit.

Animal stories, Highland cattle, Uvie Farm

Taking baby to cover

Mild and damp after a night of lashing rain. The old dears are lying on muddied flanks like stranded river barges; Abbie’s newborn is hunched and lethargic after his first night in the open, provoking fear of infections. I rearrange the hurdles to create a playpen with a haybale opened in the northeast corner. Wee man may not find his way in there just yet but when there’s more calves playing together they’ll use it for shelter & warmth.
I walk with the Nog past the paddock checking that everyone has settled: they’re all chewing the cud – ‘chawing the cood’ as show supremo Rich Thomson says. I walk down the fence towards the old tinkers’ rest at the roadside. The sound of shots blows across intermittently ¬†from the estate on the steady wind that combs the Creag Dhubh waterfall sideways across the darkened granite. Turning south into the boggy aspen copse, the Nog takes off excitedly: a female roe breaks elegantly to the marsh. She is not alone but I can’t make out any more until a pair of well-grown calves shoot up the hill synchronised as if in harness.
Roe calves make me nervous in case the Nog catches them, or rather doesn’t but takes off after them and then I have to take off after him – unfair contest! This pair crash heavily between the wires of the stock fence and away.
Returning from opening the dry pasture to Angus Halfhorn and his pair of females (mainly so that Alice can use her sandcracked hooves on drier ground), I spy the deer again, all three of them. The doe, her charges already regathered, is bounding across the open field returning them to the cover of the lower ground. The Nog is hunting mice – muzzle thrust into the mud at the base of a rush clump- so, to my relief, neither sees nor smells them.
Time I returned my charges to cover – I’ll rest easier with wee man inside the shed.

Farm Life, Highland cattle, Living with Nature, today's story

day of leisure?

I shift the cattle – O that sounds simple!- redistributing them in preparation for calving, and weaning young Alice from her mum. O boy – Deep breath!- billyandthegirlsbroughttotheyard.florashedtothecalvingpaddock.alicesyoungandoldbroughtouttojointheothers.littlehollyandlittlealiceretainedintheyardwithbigaliceanddemiog.billyandtheboysleddownintothewood.angushalfhornledoutwithabbyandbighollyrunningallthewayuptotheyard.oncefedangusfollowsbackdowntheaspenpaddockwiththenewcowaliceanddemiogleavinghercalfwithlittlehollyintheshed.nowbillyandtheboyscanbeletoutofthewoodandhollyandabbycanbeleddowntojointhem.sorted-phew!
…except..dammitthebigstottsareganginguponpregnantHollyandforcinghertoherknees – Imakemyselfbiggerand fiercerthanacoupleoftonsofangrybeeftopartthemandrushtheboysoutontothefarmroad and shut the gate.
-but that’s not the story.
It has been damp and grey – I walk the Nog to visit Mrs Cluny (Sarah Justina Macpherson,wife to a nineteenth century laird) whose monument stands atop the outcrop of Creag Dubh behind the farm. The path is sheltered and closed in by cliffs and the mounds from old quarry workings, a good place to walk on a wild day but with short horizons. I start playing grievances in my mind as I walk, particularly my disappointment at Laggan Forest Trust, an organisation founded and mandated to source work for local people. They are building a new visitor centre in the community forest and have not bothered to find out what my buildings are about, let alone provide me with an opportunity for a high profile project. I am rehearsing my recriminations, my telling public critique – until suddenly I take stock and say aloud to the darkening birches ‘Stop!’

This is not the story.
The small twigs of the birches are cross-hatched against the sky, water is slicking the path under my feet, the burn running from the waterfall down the crags is rushing and gossipping at the side. Lichens gleam on sticks dislodged by the recent winds like patches of snow. The wind blows warm on my face from the south-west, filling my nostrils with odours of damp vegetation. The Nog’s raised tail is higlighted against the sky at the top of the path, just the tail, the dog’s body has disappeared into the gloaming.


that is today’s story.