Local Heroes

Over the past few months, two local farmers have come and helped us out in two different circumstances. Both never indicated how much of their time was taken away from their own jobs, both offering their time and knowledge which was great for getting a job done and also for finding out little, gleaned gems of info.

Murdo was the man first up back when our cattle food (on a pallet, don’t be thinking a Tesco’s delivery) got delivered to an estate several miles away. I faced the challenge of having to go and load 25kg sacks onto our trailer and then offloading them at our end. In stepped Murdo, Robert, and a John Deere tractor (with front loader- very important factor) and trailer.

The only problem we then faced was the pallet tipped on the drive back, meaning Murdo couldn’t just use the tractor to off load, but the two of us had to. Doing your back in over your own work is one thing, doing it for the sake of helping someone else is another. However, it gave the opportunity for chat: lambing, calving, etc.

The next up, was Ian. I called Ian the morning I had a run in with Breena, a very hormonal cow who I was concerned about the newborn calf (I had met the man once before when we went to look at his shed before designing our cattle shed; don’t be thinking I was phoning people I knew, and more likely be very pleased that I RANG someone). Just watching Ian around the cattle was useful and I learned a new trick for dealing with a fiesty cow. However, as much as I wish that was the end of our problems, it was not… Ian and Jeannette had to deal with me on the phone several times. Two weeks later and major incident number two of the year was declared. An hour with a vet and calf number two needed tube fed, which meant I preferred the idea of seeing it before performing it. Then, when we had to get an orphan calf, Ian was back giving us the lesson in getting the skin from the dead calf onto the new calf. Not a pleasant experience, something you can read in a book but seeing it in real life is what you need. That meant Ian lost quite a lot of his own time helping us out and we are indebted to him.

It also makes it hard to show them how thankful you are, there is little we could do to help them but if the chance was there I would love to (so if anyone knows of things that farmers and their families struggle with and could use some help with, let me know). They are the unsung heroes, the local heroes that never appear in the press or turn up on honour lists. They put in so much time, not just in their own work, but for others (pulling cars out of flooded roads, snow ploughing in winter when people get stuck, etc). Could someone whisper to the Queen to add them to next year’s honours list?

Dinner Party Guest List

A while back I was asked the question of ‘who would you invite for dinner if you could invite anyone?’ Not a question I had previously thought about. However, when you compared my answer to the others I realised I live in a parallel universe to normal people. Why? The four names I listed are all people in agriculture, ones that I have met but would love to chat more to. The names that the others listed were mostly people I had never heard of (such as musicians, authors, people on TV), or the one I did recognise, David Attenborough. Hmm, no thanks, I still want to talk more to my ‘real life, full of knowledge, stories and experiences of working the land’ people. They are all people I could have a conversation with (I really have no idea what I would chat about to celebrities so why would I want to join them for dinner?).

So, who were my four? Hmm, not sure I should confess…but two are farmers (Murdo/Ian), one is a retired farmer (Watson), and the fourth is a leader of promoting agriculture/smallholdings, milks her own cows, has them halter trained and has time to set up all kinds of websites and seminars to help others (Rosemary -she’s also the only one of these four to be reading this so debated whether I should confess this where she may find out). My list is a potential reality, I don’t think anyone else had a single plausible invite. Which, why dream of inviting people who can’t or won’t come?

My brain just seems to work in the reality field, rather than reality TV, and maybe that comes about from having no TV. A shock to a lot of people but I don’t have time. Nor do I need to watch Hollyoaks when I have my own holly and oaks to watch and keep an eye on from pests; why watch Neighbours when I can watch my own neighbours (stray cow on the council road last night, got the community Facebook Page buzzing). News bulletins: go catch up over the fence. Rom com: our bull trying to jump a gate. ER: in the byre, feed tubing a calf, clock ticking on its survival. Nature documentaries: binoculars work fine. Six Nations Rugby: there is no substitute, go to local pub…but with people you can chat to.

Genny from the block.

Meet Genny the generator. Normally the two of us get on fine knowing that she’s there if I need her. When seven letters and a phone message arrive from SSE to say we will have a power cut all day yesterday until 5.30pm, Genny isn’t even in the picture.

Forward 10 hours of no power and the water is no more. Yes, as much as we have our own water supply, wood boiler, and solar panels; when the power’s off, nothing runs. Water is used sparingly from the tap and several pans are filled up beforehand to prepare for it. Not only that, it would have been a belter of a day on the amount of energy generated with not a cloud all day. Which also creates our livestock problem. Electric fences are still adhered to, but there is no water supply (also connected to the bore hole). Add sunshine and you can’t wait till 5.30pm.

Clock read 6.50pm when there was a slight power boost and then stillness. Brief enough to get your hopes up and crash. Messages via mobile data initially say another hour. At the 45 min mark I took the decision to go see Genny. But we fell out. She obviously didn’t like it that it had been so long since I last went to start her up. Twice she got going, but shut up shop within seconds. After that…nothing, no peep, no cough, no nothing. Just desperate pulling on the choke. So the cows had to wait and the polytunnel was watered by buckets. Not nearly enough but enough to get by.

So, with such a lovely sunset, my back was mostly to it, head down studying the instruction flash card. We’ll maybe try and reconcile the differences a different day.

Do you see what I see?

Not a drummer boy, but a milking cow with no locking barrier. And, as I had promised Dryope that she would get grass as soon as she let Tilly on herself, she got her reward today. OK, it’s not in the massive field with the rest of them but in a fenced off area that I can just check up on them (think of going from ITU/HDU in a hospital to a ward before they would discharge you).

Surprisingly, it took a wee bit of coaxing to get Tilly out of the byre. Culture shock maybe? Do Shetland cows speak a different dialect than Salers? Do our fields look foreign compared to those in Aberdeenshire? Grass smell funny? However, once over the threshold and onto grass, she was dancing in the sun.

Attila the Hun…

No, wait, the name on the tag was that of her mother and ‘H’ was just for heifer. However, by the time I had those details from her original owner, Tilly had made her mark as being a wee hun (as in honey, pet name and no relation to geography) and wasn’t named after Attila. Oh well, she’ll remain Tilly.

The past few weeks have been challenging. After iCalf 2 went against all odds and survived ehid bought of e.coli and meningitis, it was soon apparent not all was well with the wee dude. There were signs of several severe problems and every milk feed was back to him having to learn how to suck. Upon seeking advise from the vet regarding his prognosis, the decision was made to use euthanasia. However, his mother, very motherly and very good at supplying her offspring with lots of milk, meant unless she had a calf I’d be in for problems. Cue Tilly. Tilly has lost her mother 4 days before we got her so had been learning how to steal milk from other cows, however, that’s not always going to supply a full stomach so when I put out a advert for an orphan calf, she was offered.

Dryope wasn’t the keenest to allow Tilly to feed, so Dryope was, and still is, fed through a locking barrier and we initially had to intervene to stop Dryope kicking her off. She had had the skin of iCalf put on her to help trick the mother into thinking this was her calf. Dryope wasn’t that thick. After three days, the smell from the skin was rank so binned. Think all parties involved were relieved when it went!

Tilly has always been smart. As soon as we would turn up she was up, getting herself ready so all she had to do was take a step in and start feeding (keeping herself out of kicking range until we had lifted Dryope’s tail). There has been slow improvements over the days. Dryope doesn’t kick her off but also won’t let her feed unless we feed her in the locking barrier.

Today was a fairly major breakthrough – I caught Dryope licking Tilly for the first time. Hopefully it will not be long before their three times a day, milking/feeding partnership ends and their mother/daughter bonding is enough to avoid needing us.