The fours calves are still tied in the shed, calm and very much used to me stroking and handling them. I have had a few escapes, they manage to wiggle their way out of the halters, or the halters come loose for the hook. It is part of the learning process for all of us. I will start walking them out into the yard this week on the halter, setting their food buckets outside.
On Wednesday I did have a terrible fright. I check the calves several times a day, and when I went in late afternoon for their second feed, Breena was down, with her head twisted around under her body, shoved right up against the wall. I thought she was dead. Complete panic, tried calling for help, no one answered. I had to shift her, but calves are heavy. I was able to inch her head around by holding on to the little horns. She was still breathing, but only the whites of her eyes were showing. I was crying and swearing, always a good combination, and realised I needed to get her body pulled away so she could use her legs to push out against the wall and stand up. Plenty of huffing and puffing, finally I dragged her out away, mostly by pulling her by the tail. She laid there for a few minutes, just exhausted (so was I!) then suddenly full of movement, she got herself back up. She shook her head, I gave her a bucket of water and the silly calf went straight for the hay. My farmer friend, Ed reminded me that cows are pretty tough, adding that she might have been died. Always learning on the job.
We had moved eight lambs, now nine months old, to another field. Next day, on my daily rounds I only counted seven. My usual panic, and I spent several minutes looking in a field next door, on the next farm, thinking she had managed to get under the gate. A further look around and I spotted a white blob at the bottom of my field. The poor little lamb was completely caught by brambles and she couldn’t move. Luckily I was wearing a pair of tough gloves, and was able to hold her and pull off the brambles. Dan spent the next morning cutting back the brambles which had grown through the fence. Nasty job but someone’s got to do it!
Our Sunday roast this week was a Haunch of Venison. This was thanks to the roe deer Archie shot early in the new year. He is a good shot and the deer dropped down dead. After immediately gutting it, Archie put it in the cool room to hang for just a few days. Then I called up Matt, a local lad (has appeared in previous blogs!) who trained with a high class London butcher. Dan and Archie have butchered a deer before, but I only end up with very basic joints. Matt did it properly. We set it all up in the barn over two evenings, Matt brought his knives and equipment. In the freezer there is now a beautiful selection of venison cuts, lovely cutlets, fillets and such. But the favourite part of the whole event was definitely sausage making.
We minced the venison with a fatty shoulder of pork, from a neighbouring farm, swapped for some highland beef. (Hector licked the end of the mincer when we finished, not health and safely approved but nothing wasted!) Matt added spices, then he went to work with the sausage machine. All hand cranked, the sausages come out in one long tube. Having made sausages a few years ago when we had pigs, I was able to do the twisting up, then we hung them back in the cool room for 24 hours. 10 kilos of sausages - delicious!!
On Saturday we moved the lambs to another field. It has more grass and is steep and not soggy. The wet weather is so bad for their feet. I popped two lambs in a temporary pen set up in the old dairy shed. The dry straw will give their sore feet a break and they are already looking much better.
Last week we took my biggest bullock off the the abattoir. He is the boy on the right in the photo with the most enormous wide horns. He was the one that nicked my forehead last summer. And this guy did NOT want to cooperate.
We set up a temporary pen with big heavy cattle hurdles just outside the field gate where he was living with 6 other bullocks. He was the Boss Big Bullock. So when I offered him a bucket of cattle nuts in this pen he sauntered right in and helped himself, swinging all the others away from the food with his horns. Great, the plan was simple. Close him in the night before nice and securely, then load him up onto the cattle trailer early in the morning. The trailer was backed up into position with the land rover.
But Big Bullock was not stupid and every time I tried to trap him he was too quick. I gave up and went to bed. Very early the next morning I gave it another go. I coaxed him in with a big bucket of food, then slowly, slowly, slowly crept back to the gate. He was so greedy this time I got the bugger. Seriously happy. But Big Bullock was very unhappy once he realised he was caught.
Richard, my great helper and Ed, who was working for Richard, came up and loaded Big Bullock into the trailer. That went fairly well, but it did take some pushing and shoving from two strong men. I wish I had a chance to take photos but it was all too exciting and I did need to follow their instructions; hold the hurdle, shove the hurdle, slam the trailer door.
Once loaded we drove to the abattoir, then, upon arrival, backed the trailer up onto a gated unloading bay. Trailer doors open and Big Bullock slowly made his way out, carried on down the ramp a few feet and then changed his mind. Luckily we had closed another set of gates so he couldn’t get back. He was pretty angry and was swinging those horns. A few people were peering over the walls in horror, and the Spanish vet (abattoirs always have a gov’t vet on site and they are usually not English speaking) was opened mouthed with shock. I don’t think she had ever seen a highland bullock before so I told her he was usually sweet and docile. Hah! The bullock was actually addressing most of his fury at Richard and did manage to get a horn close enough to rip his coat in two places. After a few minutes Big Bullock did turn around like he was supposed to, and sauntered on into the building. He was definitely the most challenging delivery so far! I think he was just giving us two fingers before he accepted his fate. He lived a great life and he will become lovely suppers. And he left me such a filthy trailer, I spent an hour and a half cleaning it out!
My first big project of the new year is halter training the four highland calves .They are living in an open shed, staying dry with lots of fresh air and plenty of food. They don’t have to compete with the bigger cattle around the feed ring so they are growing and happy, just like I want them to be.
Last week we installed four strong hooks on the wall in the shed. Then it was time to catch the calves and get halters on their heads. Easier said than done. They are fairly calm around me when I visit them and feed them but they were not interested in being caught and tied up! Richard ‘lassoed’ each one, tackled it down, I gingerly tossed the halter around the head, then Richard dragged them up and they were hooked. All involved got an excellent work out and no one was hurt. Please do not try this at home.
I don’t think the calves had a great first night, but they have quickly become accustomed to their captivity and are doing well. They have fresh hay all the time and nice clean bedding. I give them cattle nuts and plenty of water twice a day and they like the routine. They also enjoy being combed, relaxing and dropping their heads down, and especially love the scratching around their necks.
This weekend I will try leading them out into the yard...watch this space!
The new year has started as 2015 ended - RAIN. The ground is spongy beneath your feet. The farm is on higher ground and we are fortunate that our fields are sloping and not susceptible to flooding. I almost hate to say that, I don’t want to jinx anything. The bridleway runs right down the middle of our fields, and as the water runs down it becomes a running river at times.
The rain can’t stop Dan. Since he has been home for the Christmas holidays, he’s spent hours in his woodlands. The winds have done some damage to his precious young saplings, so everyday he replaces broken stakes and tree tubes. He ordered and planted another 300 trees and hedgerow plants. We are slowly replacing long neglected hedgerows all over the farm, laying what we can and infilling with native hedgerow plants.
Shurper the ram stayed in his little shed, very frustrated, for almost two weeks. I was able to let him out in a small paddock on dry days. His infected foot healed nicely and Archie and I released him back into the flock. Bemborough, my other ram has been hired out for services to 10 Portland ewes on a farm in North Dorset. He was very eager when we delivered him and ran off without so much as a glance back!
An awful lot of killing on the farm in December… part of the reality of farming. Moles are now under control, but rats have invaded my hen run, a large fenced area about a quarter of an acre. Our friend Gordon, gamekeeper and rat catcher, made a couple of visits. All good fun, I must admit! He has a fantastic little terrier and an amazing smoking machine. So after smoking out the holes and whacking a few during one drizzly afternoon, Gordon returned at night and with night-vision googles and shot a few more. This may sound quite gory, but this method is safer than leaving poison around.
Archie put his Christmas present to god use. He set up his deer high-seat and shot a roe deer. It is hanging nicely in the cool room. Dan will butcher it up and I’ll be digging out my venison recipes. We have to control deer numbers and Archie and the local gamekeeper shoot a few every year, leaving the strong stags to assure healthy stock in the future.
Jo Stover has daily adventures on her small farm, together with her Highland cattle and Portland sheep, bees, a few hens, dogs, and some two-legged family and friends.