The ewes and rams are settled in and Sirius and Shurper are hard at work, plenty of red bums appearing. Last week on my way down to the sheep for the daily check I came across a very unexpected sight. There were the seven black Hebrideans trotting towards me on the bridleway. They were as surprised to see me as I was them.
Luckily Archie was with me in the Polaris ranger so we very slowly continued forward and they turned around. Before we knew it they shot off the bridleway cutting through a hedgerow and up toward the beehives and freedom on Lewesdon Hill. Archie jumped out and cut them off in the nick of time. I went ahead and opened a gate into the pond area which leads in to the woods. It was a miracle we were able to guide them on through. How did they escape? Not my fault! We discovered an unlatched gate, where Dan had left them a trough with some sheep nuts. It now has a chain for extra security.
The Highland calves were born in April (excepting the white calf ‘accidentally’ appearing in September) and November is weaning month. We called two mums and calves into the holding area, separated them and loaded the cows onto the trailer. One cow is old and I don’t want to breed with her again. The other has been a very indifferent mother (rare with Highlands), has small teats and small calves. She will be culled and become mince and sausages, on the recommendation of my butcher. The older will be culled and probably become dog food. The life and death of a Highland cow. I remind myself of the decent life they have lived, and that I am a farmer and a carnivore.
Next day we gathered in the other three seven month old calves, walked their mothers back to a far field, and borrowed a pair of electric cattle clippers from our dairy farming neighbours. Although their winter shed is open on one side and very well ventilated, the calves still get sweaty. Archie became a barber and snipped a nice wide band of hair from the middle of their backs. Although held in a the cattle crush, the calves behaved very badly and one almost managed to leap out. So we were very pleased to finally get them settled in the shed.
All night long I heard the mooing and moaning, calves calling for their mums and mums calling back, the quiet night carrying their voices. I did feel very badly for them all…until the following morning. Archie and I had begun the annual apple juice production (eighty two bottles so far) when we looked up from the barn to see Morag strutting down the bridleway heading for the calf shed. As the heavens opened with freezing rain we forced her into a turn-about and whacked, pushed and shoved her all the way back into the field.
Archie found the spot where she had jumped over the fence onto the bridleway and promptly reinforced it. We do have very good fencing, but if a cow really wants to, she can jump over a very high barrier. At about two in the morning I heard mooing outside my bedroom window. There were three unhappy cows in the field by the house. My Highlands had become Show Jumpers! For whatever reason, they become rather defeated in this field, spent the next day bawling, and agreeably walked back to their proper home the following morning. Calves quieted and peace was restored and I hope I never have a weaning episode like this again.
A few days later we had very heavy rains, apparently rainfall for the month in less than 48 hours. Rivers of water poured down the bridleway. The next morning I went to check the stock as usual and there on the bridleway were five steers! They had been in a field at the very far end of the farm, up by the top of Lewesdon Hill. We think they got spooked by the ferocious winds and rain and five jumped a fence. They stopped and settled on the bridleway by another field of Highlands, hoping to join them I guess. As they were due to be moved soon, that is just what we let them do. Later we collected the other five better behaved boys and walked them to their winter field. The cattle rings are now filled with bales of haylage and all is calm.
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.