Farm Accommodation, farm bunkhouse, Farm Life, new birth, Uncategorized, Uvie Farm

squeezed out & dried up

It’s rained all day.
Footering about the house.
No Sunday walk for the Nog.
At 4.30 I spot Moira up at the yard – she’s had enough. Her frail baby is with her- bedraggled, head down.
I open up the pen and set some food for both. Moira comes through the gate and turns aside to steal food from the store bag as she normally does. Her baby follows and batters ineffectually at her head to allow him in.
She ignores him, of course – but his new found assertion is a good sign.
I groan.
I can’t put them in yet.
He needs more after a day like this.
Fill a bucket, rattle it at Moira. She follows into the handling pen. Push the boy in close the gate. Down to the house to pick up the bottle and a kilner jar. Back up to the yard, push her round into the race: she enters easily and waddles down to the crate, ready to be relieved of her burden. Close the door. Squeeze the tit – slow to begin and then squirting easily into the jar-on to the next until full.
Shunt him inside the shed. Pour the milk into the bottle; teat on the top. Catch him between my legs with his rear backed into a corner. Open his mouth with my finger, insert the teat. He takes small sucks.
I squeeze the bottle.
He swallows.
I squeeze, he swallows.
He should be pulling at the fluid -a healthy calf will empty a bottle in seconds.
I squeeze..
I am determined that he will take the full amount of warm milk decanted into the Evian bottle chosen for the purpose at the local Co-Operative store.
I have a failsafe – I can always tube the milk into his stomach- but I risk inflaming his gullet –
better squeeze & swallow.

And I stick to the task –                                                                                                      the last drops disappear into the teat.

The bottle is almost unrecognisable – wrung out like a dishcloth.

He’s fed –
but wet.

If he gets chilled in this condition it will kill him.
I have a blowdrier and brush nearby for the showcattle.
I dry and brush him end to end. I have done the same with many fine Highland cattle –
never with one like this-

small and ratty-
this is not for showing-
it’s for saving.Image

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

No country for old beasts- (but I make exceptions)

Moira is climbing the slope to the water trough. It is installed in the top corner of the lower paddock where she and Alice lend respectability to Angus Halhorn’s pretensions to be a stock bull. This year sees him become the one male animal with exclusive responsibility for populating the farm.


Currently most of the girls gravitate around Billy in the calving paddock and won’t be introduced to his successor for another month at least. The gestation period for cattle is the same as for humans, so if I want calves born in the New Year I have to wait a while yet.
Moira did not drop her calf last night as I thought she might, so she lugs her swollen body up the slope painfully slowly, not just heavy but also lame.
I hate seeing my animals age.
Billy is no longer reliable to serve the cows as he has for the last decade: his rear legs won’t support his weight to lift him onto the back of a fruitily fragrant female. Cows some into full season just one day a month, so a successful mating demands a kind of intense opportunism. Nature makes no concessions to age.
He is still splendid: reason enough to have him adorning my fields.
Morag is a kind of living ghost. An angular animal who always loses condition in winter so that pink patches of skin show through her thinning white coat, she is now so lame that one leg swings free much of the time.

She is also inspirational, an archetype of stoicism, enduring in all conditions to drop some of the most beautiful calves I have ever had.


Speaking of which, Demi-Og’s wee boy is lying still in the corner of the pen when I go up this morning. He should be standing, jumping about after a lusty breakfast from his mothers wonderful long teats.
At least he’s moving.
Close up I find that he has his head caught under the gate. He’s pushed it under while lying down, and to extract it…he stands up, only to find that the bottom bar won’t permit it. So he thinks he’s trapped and lies there helpless. I lift the gate as high as I am able – higher still – when I’ve lifted it to his full standing height, he finally saunters free, making a beeline for breakfast.
His presence must justify the pensioners.

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

Early days

There are some sounds that creep up on me, present for a while without insistence. Cockcrow is one of them. Cocky’s trumpeting is an ambient noise that sidles into consciousness. It puzzles me and annoys me some that I am slow in registering this presence.
Another such is today’s hammering of the yaffle. He was working away, probably at an aspen in the hollow across the hayfield, while I was filling the buckets for the morning feed . I was absorbing the sound without acknowledgment. It came into focus suddenly with the realisation of neglect – that somehow I had failed to recognise and welcome this new addition to the farm concert.
As if I had not saluted the first housemartin home.
There are other precious signs of spring, fragile shows monitored and gathered carefully; out of context with the bare birches and the pale sun.
The flags are pushing green through the surface of the pond, now adopted by a pair of mallard, These are Mr & Mrs Duck who appear (not the same pair, but bred from the same) every year to nest on the small island. They are named for their proprietorial waddle round the yard, like holiday-house owners returned from the city. They feel totally at home, launching off the bag of cattle nuts in the barn when I go to bring in Demi-Og and her boy.
The catkins are hanging from the hazels- I never saw them develop – suddenly they are just there, noticed and welcome. Miniature daffs show in sunny corners, faintest of greening on snowberries. Grouse lift from the heather in pairs, a goosander from the wee loch.
Too early yet, too early – croaks the raven from the crags.

I hear you harsh bird- the grass is still flat but the two bull calves are spinning and dancing in expectation of growth.

Animal stories, Highland cattle, Uncategorized


Everyone is gathered round the the feeder at the shed this evening. Abby has come into season for the first time since giving birth: Billy has been shadowing her all day, Abby’s baby shadowing him. She avoids his elderly advances with ease, though currently she is pestered by equally geriatric (and massively pregnant) Flora, made senseless by hormonal vapours. Holly, oblivious of the action behind her, stares at me chewing philosophically; old Morag is just happy to be here another day, chewing her cud like tobacco –

No surprise if she spits!

Demi Og is not there. She and baby are tucked against the fence in the hollow of the hayfield – just being private. Three days on from his birth, we have a routine that will be useful to maintain if the weather hardens. I push them gently to the fieldgate and up the road to the yard: she turns straight into the isolation pen, I pin the hurdles to. A scoop of nuts, an armful of hay; the two of them have comfort til morning-

and so do I.

I will rest knowing they are inside –
– however loud the ragged night rattles, patters and roars at my windows.

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.

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.

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

Dirty work this cleaning

Clean clean – I’m cleaning the bunkhouse. A surprise group of guests are coming for a weekend of winter hiking. The place needs prepared. All morning is spent indoors while the snow is whistled up by the wind in the eaves. Start with the bathrooms- don’t skimp on the toilets – no trace of previous occupancy. Wash basins,shower, sweep the place out – fresh towels – and onto the bedrooms: family room and two sleeping lofts. Sweep first, clear any used bedlinen- make up the beds from folded linen from the cupboard at the end of the bathroom. Fold the corners of the duvets back as the final invitation. Hoover the lounge, after sweeping crumbs and dust to the floor.
Stair carpet swept down to the tiles in the kitchen. Sweep mud carried in from boots, food scraps down to the entrance door. Clean round the corners on hands and knees, empty recycling bins, stack crockery from the drainer. Make sure the sets of china and glass are complete in the cupboards.
Finish the tiles with the steam cleaner, working backwards towards the end of the long flex run from the garage and then out the garage door so I don’t tread over the damp tiles.
Lights on in welcome – job done. The house will belong to the guests for the weekend, but I’ve given the best start, first impressions must be good and then they will relax into the spaces as the weekend progresses, breaking down habitual spatial jealousies.
And now a different kind of service, a bale to the cattle.
It is sleeting, wet snow driven on the wind. I need to prepare: warmth first, raingear next. My ovetrousers are pulled over jeans, rolled over the top of boots shedding the rain. Both boots and trousers are covered in muck from the morning’s chores. Up to the yard on the quad, pick up a bale on the scorpion tail bogey and down to the sodden pasture where Angus Halfhorn and the girls are standimg on the drier ground. The gate is poached and guttery with deep mud. I have to reverse the machine up to the feeder – the trailer, weighed down with the haybale, skids in the slime and turns too far. Try again. A different line and more throttle sends muck spinning into the damp air but the bale is now jammed up against the metal of the feeder.
Using the JCB I could drop the bale into the feeder from above but it is too wet and soft for the seven ton machine so I use the quad this time, which means upending the feeder. The weight of metal tests me close to the limit on every occasion but at least it’s not cemented to the mud with frost. Tip my fingers into the mire at the bottom of the metal ring and lift to stand it on its side. The bale is levered into the dish where the old silage, black and rank, has been pulled to the side, to sit neatly as I drop the ring over the hay. Squelching back onboard the quad I open the gate to let the cattle feed.
Quad parked in the garage, trailer unhitched and parked, I’m back indoors. My boots and clothes are wet, dirty and smelling of dung.
The cattle don’t mind – the bunkhouse guests might!

Animal stories, Farm Life, farm visitors, Highland cattle, Living with Nature, Uncategorized, Uvie Farm

Fuel enough for today

Colder this morning, a bale to put out- and the digger doesn’t start, The battery is old, the glow plug doesn’t work- but the old machine normally fires up after a recharge and some fast start like a pensioner on prozak. Today the engine hunts and dies. I realise how dependant I am and in turn how dependant the cattle are on me to resolve this failure.
More juice, and some fresh diesel livening the tank: the machine shakes itself and offers to work – thankfully I can satisfy the bellowing stotts- this time.
Billy, my beloved bull is old too. The calves are late, perhaps he missed some cows this year with the muscles in his weakening rear legs no longer able to lift his weight to mount the willing females. I see him alone in the calving pen: as usual he comes close and bends his giant neck to the side in invitation- which I accept, climbing over the gate and taking time to scratch him leaning my body into the hollow of his flank.
Down in the bottom pasture, Angus Halfhorn waits with his two young cows, both heavy and healthy with calf. They are gathered at the far end of the field. I open the gate above and when I ride down on the quad, they canter parallel to me, unhurried and graceful. The long copper hair of Angie’s coat shakes as he runs, matching me for speed. They proceed to the trough ahead of me and wait for me in expectation.
All quiet, all in order – they are satisfied. I have not disappointed. The machine has fuel for today,

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

Does racing the dog qualify as farm work?

The Nog has finished harassing the stotts and gallops down the hill after the quad. Angus Halfhorn waits quietly at the fence, on the dry ground where he and the girls spend most of the day. He falls into step with me as I wade though the swampy ground by the feed trough, where he takes his place. Pride of place be it said, but not over-eager. Alice pushes in next and Demi-Og moves nervously round to the end where she will find a space without disturbing the other two. Precedence is clear – it makes my job easier that there is no challenge or jostling.
However, this is not true of the Nog – who starts to give me grief the moment I fire up the quad to ride back up the hill. I invite him on board but with the snow blowing in from the west he can’t make up his mind whether he wants to ride up front or race beside me. The latter makes me nervous so I command him on board like a drunken rating onto a merchantman. He doesn’t get it right though – not willing to sit up in the face of the weather, he lies across the front of the seat like a sack with a tail, pinning the skin of my thigh painfully.
This doesn’t work for me – so I chase behind him up to the second gate and refuse to allow him on board for the run down the road. He has cottoned on to this, so he allows me a headstart, knowing that I will have to slow for the bend and only sets off when I am about thirty yards away. We race up to the house neck and neck.
I’m really not convinced this is best farm practice.

Farm Life, Highland cattle, Living with Nature, Other People's Stories, Uncategorized

Old and cold today

There is frost on the ground this morning: water is skinned with ice like cooling soup, breaking with a crunch as the quad wheels break through. The air is fresh in my nostrils as I motor down the hill to Angus Halfhorn, and his prime pregnant heifers: Alice and Demi Og. Angie is waiting by the stock fence as I climb over with the feed sack. He watches me without importuning, and then follows to the trough taking his place patiently as I spread the nuts evenly along its length.  He is simply a decent lad, so I take time to acknowledge him, looking him in the eye, hailing him cheerfully and communicating something more subtle but equally important to a herd member- my heartfelt goodwill.

The cold feels correct, a settled seasonality, though troublesome.


Ten minutes drive takes me to the coffee-shop for my quarterly book-keeping session with the endlessly patient Wilma, delayed a half-hour for frozen roads. Jimmy arrives, taking a break from chopping logs for sale in the roofless farmhouse across the road. He has been lamenting the mild weather as no-one is burning his sticks, but today he blows on his fingers complaining of the chill wind. Jimmy celebrated his birthday last week – he is 84.


I have a bale to deliver to the geriatrics at the yard- Billy and the girls. It is just a short stretch from the other side of the yard, but the rusting yellow JCB must be nursed into life to shift the heavy silage. This task is reserved  for late afternoon so that the cold metal of the big engine benefits from the warmth of the day. Even so, having attached the battery charger, administered quick start fluid – it takes the third (and final, for sure) spasm of the wheezing engine to catch and clear.

We ready for work even as twilight falls and the frosts of a new night gather.