Thursday morning the sun was shining, cold and lovely. Today was results day, Mary the vet arriving at 9.30 to check the jab area for any swelling. So we had to get all the cattle back into the holding area and through the race into the cattle crush to allow Mary a quick check of the previous injection area. Easy…not.
The eleven cattle in Nine Acres lifted their heads when they heard the cattle cake bounce in the bucket, thought about it for about 10 seconds, then put their heads back down and didn’t move. Why put ourselves through all that effort, get shoved down the race, poked and jabbed, all for the chance of a couple nibbles. Forget it. And so goes the results day. Who says cattle are stupid?
After more coaxing than imaginable, five cows finally got up enough stem to saunter into the field adjoining the holding pen, and I was able to lure them into the pen. Meanwhile, Matt and Richard rounded up the six others, they got a bit excited and followed shortly behind the five cows. We shoved them into the race and went back to Westing Close for the six younger ones.
This group was even more stubborn, they took off running up and down the field. Shaking the bucket had no appeal whatsoever. However, after some time, and with Matt and Richard hiding away, they finally settled down, suddenly noticed the tempting cake and walked on across the bridleway. They followed me into the next field, then Richard and Matt took over and very slowly walked them closer and closer to the holding pen. As they got near enough, we whopped and waved and they bolted in.
Luckily Mary was late, as were we, but it all went swimmingly as the cattle moved through the crush. No reactors. All clear. Huge relief. The four calves also showed no reaction. So clear TB test in 2016 and we get to do it all again in twelve months. Bring on the badger cull!
Every year we need to have all the cattle TB tested, as required by DEFRA. TB in cattle is a real problem all over England and especially in the South West. Over 270,000 cattle have been culled since 2008, after they tested positive. It is a stressful time for both the cattle and the farmers.
Badgers infected with TB spread the disease to cattle. And as badgers are ‘protected’ they cannot be harmed even if they decide to move onto your farm and establish a new community. The badger population is exploding as they have no predators. And the hedgehog population is in deep and rapid decline. Badgers love a tasty little hedgehog. No one in our area has seen a hedgehog for a very long time yet they used to be everywhere. I see one or two dead badgers killed on the roadside every week, there are so many of them.
So Monday morning I woke with worry for the day ahead. Luckily I had Matt and Richard to help me get the cattle rounded up and moved into the handling area before my vet, Mary arrived. Mary is fantastic with the Highlands and they seem to like her, too. It wasn’t too difficult to move them across two fields, they generally follow me as I shake a bucket of cattle cake.
The first group of twelve, including the bull and pregnant cows, were shoved down the race and held in. Then we moved the second group of six, young bullocks and heifers, all quite excited, into an open pen in the holding area. I was also having blood taken from all the animals, as I am in a Premium Health Scheme, and my cattle are disease-free. They need re-testing for that every year. These are treatable cattle diseases such as BVD, Lepto, IBR and Johne’s disease.
One by one the cattle were caught in the crush, with their heads clamped. Poor Mary had to lift their thick and hairy and mucky tails, stick a needle in on the underside and draw two vials of blood. Then she clipped a bit of hair off their necks and gave them the two TB jabs. The first group went through fairly calmly, and released into an empty field. The next group were a bit flaky, running back down the race, bashing each other a bit, but Richard and Matt gave them a good whack when appropriate, and Mary did her blood taking and jabbing. I mostly collected and labelled vials, open and closed the cattle crush and gates. Luckily the weather improved as the day moved on, and it even stopped raining.
The calves in the shed were the last to be tested. As they are on halters, we walked them out into the yard. Richard and Matt held them as they got the treatment from Mary. Then were given a big bowl of cake as a reward. The bullock had climbed into the feed ring in the shed, so he had a slightly different experience. We tied him up inside, Mary did the bloods and TB. Then Matt climbed on his back and played cowboy. No animal was hurt in the process! And it was definitely a mood lifter. Now we wait until Thursday, when Mary returns to see if there has been any reaction to the jabs, indicating TB.
Dan wanted to spend the weekend getting the hedge planting finished. But I had other ideas. The sheep are spread out across the farm. It was time to get all the pregnant ewes together, the four rams, and all the rest onto different fields. Of course Saturday was drizzly and cold, perfect weather for penning sheep and driving them across slippery pastures.
It is always my job to call the sheep into pens for transporting. I shake a bucket of nuts and they generally come running. If they see a stranger there waiting to slam the pen shut, they turn around in the opposite direction. So I spent the morning on my own calling my beautiful darlings into pens.
Then Dan arrived with our little sheep trailer on the back of the Ranger, and we started loading. All went well and it was especially good to get the ten lambs (now 10 months old) and the 6 wethers up on fresh fields at the top of the farm, with plenty to eat. I will move the 21 ewes to a field near the house in a couple of weeks, but leaving them for now until I get the cattle TB tested next week.
The last task of the day was moving three lambs who had been lame, from a field by the barn, to join the other lambs. It is always more difficult to catch a small group. The bigger flocks seems to stick together and follow the leader. So the challenge began. The three little darlings kept splitting up and one always went in the opposite direction. I finally got them into the little pen, turned around, only to see one of them managing to slip out where the two hurdles had unhooked at the bottom. She lifted the hurdle up and shot out. Dan was furious and started chasing her, all the way down to the other end of the field…where she squeezed under a gate into the wood! I was not mad at the lamb anymore but I was completely infuriated with Dan and that is an understatement!
Moments later daughter Hannah and her friend Jack pulled up. Whew. Jack ran down to see Dan while I ranted to Hannah about what her father had done. We joined them in at the edge of the wood where the petrified lamb had climbed down to the stream and tucked herself by the old stone bridge. We all slowly moved toward her and she practically jumped into Dan’s arms. He carried her all the way back to the pen, not daring to let go. So the day ended with everyone in their rightful place. And Dan got to spend all day Sunday in the sunshine planting another hedgerow, which he loved.
As the wet windy weather continued, we had to carry on regardless. Last weekend Dan was determined to get 750 hedge plants into the ground. He had already planted a row of rowan trees down the long strip between two fields. It was time to plant inbetween, with dog rose, blackthorn, hawthorn, spindle, guelder rose, dogwood, field maple, all traditional hedgerow planting.
So with the wind whipping at about 40 mph, Dan, Richard and I hauled ourselves up on the hillside to begin. I lasted an hour and a half, then went back to get them food, and never returned. Freezing wind! They carried on, planting 450, the rain came down in sheets and they finally gave up.
We still have eight sheep in two pens in the old stone shed, Shurper the ram, four ewes and three lambs. All had sore feet, the lambs had very dirty bums but are now all cleaned up. They were wormed not so long ago, and a poo test indicated a low count. I cannot be bothered to put them back out in such miserable wet weather.
Mid week, with ram Bemborough back from his loan to another flock of Portlands, it was time to get the rams together in a group. Midweek the weather was improved. I set up a very small pen in our holding area (where we have the cattle crush). Bemborough came in from one field, the two young rams from the opposite. I brought Shurper up from the shed, Richard holding him on the back of the Ranger! The four of them spent a miserable 24 hours shoved together, no food or water. Awful, but necessary. The pen area is small, preventing them from backing up to get a “full head of steam" and charging. If I just let them out in the field, running at each other with big horns can do terrible damage. So they sorted themselves out, with plenty of shoving and pushing. After a miserable night, the poor things had organised their pecking order. When I released them they just wanted to eat. And they are a contented group of friends. The females don’t require such treatment!
Last Saturday we had our last shoot day of the season, which officially ends on the 31st of January. Ours is a small local shoot, on a nearby ninety eight acre farm, involving a handful of eccentric Stoke Abbott residents. So much more fun than any big commercial shoot. Contrary to what our shoot captain thinks, we are not there for the numbers! It is all about being out in the countryside, shooting good birds, working the dogs (and children!) and enjoying the company.
The days always end with a grand shoot lunch with guns and beaters around the table. The guns take turns providing the meal, although they actually have nothing to do with the event, except for pouring wine. The wives and girlfriends do all the work. We eat a hardy main course, usually some sort of stew, move on to a good stodgy pudding, ending of course, with cheese and port. Much wine, beer and cider is consumed. These lunches are brilliant fun and we miss them once the season ends!
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.