I prepared the field last night, hauling the chain harrow to spread dung and molehills.
This morning is perfect for rolling.
A heavy mist covers the house allowing a luminous glow through the windows-
assurance of a cloudless sky.
then green again.
The mist lifts as I progress, revealing sunshine on the upper part of Creag Dubh,
its lower slopes still veiled as if for modesty.
By the time I finish my skin is chilled,
the smell of crushed grass fills my nostrils;
small rainbows hide in thinning vapour.
The day is opening.
The ridge hinges from its north axis to head east. Light fades but the sky is bright with blue and gold. Strathspey is entirely green, grass and darker foliage of conifers, apart fiery reflections from meandered loops of the river. It is windless: even the Nog, who doesn’t understand peaceful, sits watching the valley.Scattered snow like swagged net veils surrounding ridges and higher and further the valleys beckon upwards to blanketed white plateaus merging with cloud,
Sunday is for maintenance and renewal. House cleaning was interrupted by four guests to the farm, Edinburgh students, wanting to see the animals. Little Holly poses shyly, Morag’s arthritic leg is hanging almost useless, Billy lumbers over. At one stage he has the men on one side and the women on the other – all of them caressing him in a kind of wonderment. Happy man! Angus Halfhorn presents his neck to me then characteristically selects one of the visitors for half-welcomed greetings.
Next to complete the chores: load the log basket ( I will not start the heating until the water is threatened with freezing), split kindlers, load bottles and tins for the banks, set the sourdough to prove and out to the hill before I lose the light. I don’t have time for the full ridge walk so I flog up to the saddle along the old peat road assisted by my awareness of others passed the same way. On the crest the view opens to the west, ranks of snowy peaks hazy and luminous in the cold air receding towards the sea.
I hear ravens overhead, a fullthroated trouble of dogs, lazy car engines- somewhere a light plane. From here, the big house becomes a small house, it is clusters of houses that flag human occupancy in this wide waste. Headlights track lazily up the slope toward Drumochter summit – weekenders heading for home. Time I did the same- there is bread to bake.
The vet will arrive at 1.30 although it is Saturday. He mails that he has served at the abattoir all week: will come then as he lives closeby – I can see his house from the crags behind the farm. My new breeding females need testing to avoid disease, and two young bulls need castrating and dehorning. All animals in each group must come to the yard before separation. First, Billy and the girls from the Apron, the hollow pasture that lies like an old fashioned skirt across bony granite knees. My darling bull responds first from the bottom of the field bringing the others with him – a stott (last year’s castrato) bounces up confidently in front and -Demi Og – the new blond heifer carrying a calf and my herd’s future- follows third her horns held high and alert. Billy breaks into a canter and all respond even Flora with her breached birth muscle that nearly killed her champion calf early this year; even old Morag, ugly, white and growling,mother of champions,puts her arthritic hind leg to ground to propel her forwards.
Billy leads them through the barnyard and into the calving paddock where I have set a new surface to the hardstanding, a fresh bale in the feeder and feednuts in the metal trough, Turning to check the followers I find Demi-Og has taken a short cut and isolated herself in a corner gazing longingly at her contented companions. When I herd her towards the gate she sets off athletically in the opposite direction and then returns, gathers herself neatly to clear the roadside wire and trots across to the others. After just a month on the farm she is very much a part of the herd, the family, though unfamiliar with my gates..
Angus and the young cows Holly and Abby are waiting in the bottom paddock with two calves, spread along the fence not gathered round the feeder, indicating that their hay is low. Angus charges out of the opened gate. I gun the quad up the field and the young bull follows at a gallop, leading the way in that most glorious sight: a stampede of highlanders- coat-shaking, hoofstamping, headlong energy. At the yard, Angus and Billy start roaring and pawing the ground, but two fences remain between them.The bull calf is shed off and we ready to return down the hill.I pull on a round bale behind the quad using the bogey’s scorpions tail bar that slides over it and cants it on to the bogey as I move forward. Angus is waiting at the gate – I jerk forward to head him away from the opening – and the bale drops off the back, but Angus has started away from a potential confrontation with his father Billy and I retrieve the bale at leisure. I lead them back down, all except solitary Moira, rattling a bag of feed. Angus races alongside me this time, simple, friendly,direct showing signs of that ‘extra vertebra’ that marks my best bulls – he will partner me for many years to come; the rest follow at speed.Reversing the bale buggy towards the feeder I hear a despairing roar from the stott who had lingered at the yard confining his brother, and now pelts down to the paddock as if his life depended on it. I can tilt the feeder easily at his time of the year without needing to prise it from the frieze of frost that binds it down deeper in the winter.
Finally, after the vet has left, I bring Alice and her baby across to the calving paddock – Moira is there, Solitary, hornless she will be the first of the Uvie family met by the shy newcomer. Alice is glad of it extending her nose to greet the older cow – Moira stands off, arching her neck in a tense bow, her head low glaring sideways – it will do her good to dominate, and Alice will belong – little by little. The rain holds off, the vet is gone and the animals adapt to their new circumstances. Billy is standing at the side fence with the bleeding stott – I can sense his confusion and reproach. He was not damaged- but herded – I broke a compact, I’ll make it up to him tomorrow.