Back to Black

Thankfully, our usual delivery drivers around here know me…

“Have a parcel for you”, while overlooking the gate.

‘Fab, can you just stick it inside the pickup?’, head under cow trying to milk her out after she refuses to let her calf on.

“Hmm, are you happy for me to sign it for you? You look a bit busy.”

‘Certainly’ (head voice: I really don’t think your next delivery will be ecstatic to handle a signature machine covered in cow manure and udder cream).

For yes, two boys were securely plonked in car seats (they say boredom is the best way to ignite a child’s imagination, so, these two will be destined for being authors or film makers at this rate). Once pick up was positioned so they had good spectator seats, the cow sectioned off (think two attempts, there was a bull in the same field) and walked down to the handling area, I was able to start working.

Lead up to the event: An afternoon of noise from Gilly had me puzzled. Why did she keep mooing? Eventually I stood with the binoculars and watched her (told you they aren’t used to spy on neighbours…). Observations led to the realisation that she had a full udder, was nudging her calf up but then wouldn’t stand to let him feed. Oh whoop-ed-ee-do-dah. Well, it was going to have to wait till the morning.

So a early meander through the field with a bull was quickly aborted and I decided I’d entice her to the gate. So, after sorting the boys into their front row seats (well, front row but the Micro is still in a rear facing seat so his view was just of the headrest), and hence the delivery driver couldn’t get up to the house and had to join the party).

Now, the last time I had a cow in for something similar was back at calving when Breena went ballistic. I therefore wasn’t exuding confidence when ‘going under’ (if you ever see a football player dive after getting kicked in the shins, they need to come here and milk a wild one). So, just like jumping from a high dive, I held my breath and went for it.

Now, I’d love to say it was all calm and soothing. However, it didn’t start that way. Something wasn’t right (obviously) and she wasn’t wanting me touching her. A trick of the trade taught by Farmer Ian back when Breena was hormonally wild was adopted and soon, a more typical hand milking sessions was going. Other than I wasn’t sitting on a wooden stool; more crouching down ready to drop everything and run. But not crouching as if to start a 100m sprint, more a cross between a tai chi movement and I’d just met an intruder in the night. And because of that, I got an instant make up do. Yep, one tail swish in the face and I had lines under my eyes that were an Amy Winehouse wannabe look. Add a few dartings up and down with a buff on, causing a similar backcomb, beehive look for a small beehive was coming on nicely to match the eyeliner and little wonder the delivery man kept to the gate.

Well, I may not be able to sing but my cows think I should be a rockstar. Skip the black though, my waterproofs are green…

Red bull (but no wings).

So we have a bull. And he is a red and white bull. Not ours, a rented one that comes for a six week package all inclusive holiday. A bull that had no experience of electric fencing. Yes, he cantered through it like it was the ribbon at the finish line when he first arrived. However, we had deliberately done it so it wasn’t the end of the world, all he had done was headed for the part of the field with less grass, more reeds and no ladies. He then refused to come back. This should have given a warning that this bull was no Mr Clever Clogs.

Fast forward to my last field shifting exercise and all the ladies followed the clue. Stand at the gate, whistle, they all come through. Welcome Sweet Muppet and our steer calves. Now, fair do for the calves as they are less familiar with shifting fields. But a bull is not something I want to be up close and personal with. And after hanging about patiently waiting for Sweet Muppet to shift his sweet rear end through the gate, I may have quietly whispered that if he didn’t get his act together he would be joining the same process as all the other male cattle. Now, that threat was not one I could follow through with but how does he know that? So, he shifted. And since then he has been much better at following the rest of the herd when stock rotating.

Until this evening. Sweet Muppet decided that he didn’t want to step over the electric fence. He then bellowed that he had been left behind. He cantered off along the fence while I decided to make a swift exist from the field in case he decided to run back. But no. So I went off to work on the polytunnel to give him time to work it out. Sweet Muppet still refused to cross the line. I undid it to give him a gap with no fence. He still refused. I reeled it in. He still refused. I wondered if I should have just spoken to him. Told him the electric was off, that the line was gone and it would be better to just head for the new grass. But I didn’t. Time was running out as I was trying to solve the water system in the polytunnel. Figured he would eventually work it out.

And as I write this, Sweet Muppet has finally joined the cows. Well, the ones he’s supposed to be with. Thank goodness he doesn’t drink Red Bull…

Auf Wiedersehen Herr Hrossey

Mr Hrossey was a steer. A fine prize steer (no connection to the fine prize cow in ‘What the Ladybird Heard’ by Julia Donaldson). Today, he went off to his forever home as he was just about to hit the 30 month mark. However, this wasn’t just any send off, he got a proper leaving do. For not just myself, the Mini Crofter and the Micro Crofter were involved. But a German film crew.

A fine party of three who seemed to manage loading a steer, shifting a bull, babysitting a baby and dealing with the mayhem of our house (along with heavy burst of rain, high wind and glaring sunshine at times). For, it was not just a day for day tripping to the abattoir. This was a day for making bread and relish (while trying to get tea sorted). So, my home does not suit Country Homes and Interiors magazine. Mine is a working kitchen, with mouths to feed and cows to shift. So, for anyone in Germany; the saying goes that my kitchen looks like ‘there appears to have been a struggle’. But don’t look at what I haven’t done, for the steer’s away, two lots of cows shifted, and I made it to spinning group. Housekeeping can wait.

Now, I decided today being in TV production can not be easy. And today gave them a run for their money. For there is no second shots of asking a cow to come more slowly through a gate. Two year olds do not accommodate for cameras either (or at least mine wasn’t keen; I even had to shift a tractor to get him to sit quietly at one point). Seven month olds do better until it takes the bull a lot longer to go through a gate and it’s getting into meal times. And what about people like me who either talk to themselves or don’t say a word (just like the ladybird)? Am I supposed to if I have a camera watching. What about the mike? Is it on all the time?

In reflection, it seemed to go ok. Hopefully today gave them a glimpse of crofting. My reflection is, longer grass can hide some pretty big stones if you pull off to let someone pass…

Everybody hurts

The past week (and a bit) has been a bit of a journey. A William Tell Overture with a swan song and minor key change/REM song interspersed.

For where there is livestock, there is deadstock. Maybe not something we like to discuss but it can (and will) happen.

In the process of collecting the sheep in so I could shear, the wee dude was spotted. Now, our Jacob sheep are a friendly bunch. They generally run towards you or just keep on with their grass cutting job when you go near them. So to have a sheep not run away wasn’t overly concerning. However, when I went to get him to join the others, I knew something wasn’t right. A bit of investigating and after the diagnosis, the discussion was made to put him out of his misery.

Now, I realise some don’t understand how I can raise stock that ends up on my plate but I would say, that is so much more easier than dealing with an animal that is not well. They often don’t let on that something is wrong, they can’t communicate the extent of their illness/pain and so with that, it’s often left to knowledge, experience and guess work on knowing how to quickly treat (or ring a vet). Those of us with livestock like our animals to have happy and contented lives and we want them to end them well, not in pain or stress. I could have put him through a lot with medications etc which may or more likely, may not have worked causing a drawn out conclusion. And the advice I got before the decision was made, was to make his exit as swift as possible.

So, what did I do? I phoned a friend to come for support. We have the means to humanly put down our livestock if we need it. That doesn’t mean it makes it easy so figured the best way was not to approach it (the task, not the sheep) on my own.

But it’s not just the first phase that is easy. Once you have a dead animal, you then have to get it taken away. So here is the massive thank you to the Fallen Stock Collection man (aka knackerman). His is not a job for the faint hearted. Funnily enough, it’s also a career I never heard spoke about at school. When he did arrive, it was not a hot day he came but his lorry certainly had an aroma. A chatty guy and one able to tell the the do’s and don’ts of dead-stock management. Not what I had pictured needing to do while the. Crofter was away, that’s for sure.

But the croft still goes on. And for several days, a Mini Crofter has been asking me if the knackerman was coming back. No son, hopefully the knackerman visiting will be few and far between.

When a plan comes together.

Do you love it when a plan comes together? Then I suggest avoid planning anything that involves the weather, livestock and toddlers. Because all can be as unpredictable as the wheels on a supermarket trolley.

So yes, at the end of July the Crofter headed back to ‘work’ with a few things that needed to still be done on the croft. The last of the sheep needed shearing (don’t be thinking I do 200 in a day, more one in every 200 hours). One tractor down to the neighbours to turn hay, closely followed by getting the old baler set up and ready. Intersperse with a few sheep having foot problems due to the rubbish weather, a sheep needing culled, a lovely chat with the knacker man (not a job for those with sensitive noses), a broken water pipe to the water trough so no water for cows or the polytunnel, a phone call from my ‘work’ saying my registration was about to run out, a bull needing shifting, a shed delivery by an lorry driver who couldn’t follow directions, and as of this evening, a cow with an udder problem.

Thankfully I had unsuspecting visitors staying on most occasions which meant the term, ‘can you hold a baby?’ really meant, ‘can you look after two highly energetic boys while I nip off for an hour?’. Little wonder I have very few offering to hold a baby anymore.

Now, don’t be thinking all went to plan. Plan? What plan? Hard to plan when a lot of what your job entails seems to be trouble shooting. The baler managed a near lap before breaking down. All sheep have been sheared although I have the most magnificent suntan stripe on my lower back (don’t shear with your back to the sun was that lesson). The bull eventually went through the right gate and I only jumped the fence once (and would not have done it without the help of a neighbour; shift the bull that is, not leaping fences). The water pipe was fixed by another neighbour and another (yes, I have fantastic neighbours) one helped retrieve the herd (I had taken emergency action to release them into the far field that has a burn to ensure they had water thinking it wouldn’t be easy fixing the broken pipe. My neighbour managed in about 10 mins!).

So after livestock, polystock. And man alive, that poly tunnel is a jungle. So that will be next week’s task…in my spare time.

Kenny Rogers and The Baler

If Kenny Roger’s had been from the Highlands, his song ‘The Gambler’ would have been tweaked to be ‘The Baler’. The tone of the music matching the atmosphere when hay making. Having a clear one week sunny, light wind and no dew window would be desirable. Nearly a fantasy and seems more attune to the term ‘clutching at straws’; except it should be straw (and hay). In fact, there seems to be a strong similarity between gambling and hay making. When do we cut? Is the grass too short? Too long? Has it dried enough? Can we spread it? Rain is forecast, what do we do? When can we start baling? How long into the night will this go? And so on. Now, to add to the pressure, this was not our hayfield, but the neighbours. And you really don’t want to wreak their winter feed. Oh, and the Crofter had just left to go off shore but I still had relatives hanging about to help with watching a Mini and a Micro Crofter but not ones that could operate machinery and were supposed to be on holiday. not helping me work.

With haymaking though, unlike poker, there is no face to give any clues, just four different websites with weather forecasts and none of them agree.

And with that, this week has been sky watching, grass drying assessing and getting hay turners and balers ready (auto correct seems to think I should have been baking rather than baling; I haven’t, unless you count spreading the grass to ‘bake’ in the field. The Mini Crofter would probably have been very disappointed with that type of baking though).

So Kenny, you may have retired from your country singing, but how about a new recording of ‘The Gambler’, but called ‘The Baler’, and along the lines of:

You’ve gotta know when to mow them,

Know when to spread them

Know when to leave them

Know when to row

You never count your bales

When you’re sitting in the tractor

They’ll be time enough for countin’

When the baling’s done

Braw banter.

With relatives (exotic ones, all the way from the US) coming for a flying visit in their whirlwind journey through Europe, I decided we better beef up their itinerary while they are here (I’ve seen pictures on Facebook of their stay in France). So…

A personal chauffeur (autocorrect is pants, that should have read Crofter) will pick you, your family and your belongings up from the train station (in a Suzuki Swift, one of the UK’s smaller cars to ensure full cultural experience; I’m borrowing it solely for this). The scenic drive home will allow you to fully take in the single track road without needing to drive at snail pace like most tourist drivers do to the annoyance of locals). It will give you a chance to enjoy the heart racing adventure like you’re in a Formula One car when in actual fact, I’ll be going a whole lot slower than you really think (part of this is due to road variations in width and do expect potholes).

Once at our destination, a tour of the estate (the terminology is used loosely, but it means help round up the sheep) will be followed by a hands on experience of crofting (you can help shear, I still have six to do). Dinner will be a ribeye roast from one of our very own huggable, horned beasts (it’s actually one of the steers that broke my electric fence, I don’t hold grudges, it was sent off with the ‘Steer’s blessing, see previous post for the full blessing).

Friday will be started off with a continental breakfast (while we can still offer it before we become fully Brexitised). The excursion for the day will be to the local national park (our place is more like Jurassic park so figure it’s better to go somewhere to chill). Tea will be provided by the local chippy and a selection of fish, black pudding, white pudding and haggis suppers will be bought for all to sample to ensure we help provide customers for vascular surgeons in the future, always plans ahead).

Saturday will commence with porridge to compensate for the previous night’s tea. A short trip will give the back drop of the setting of a crofting version of ‘Landmark’. Our version includes games such as ‘Pick up stones’ (rules: each person has a bucket, the count down timer will be set and the winner will have the most stones in their bucket). This will be done on the newly ploughed section. The top three winners will then have a chance to compete in the advanced championship (the rough bit with bigger stones; throwing the stone put or tossing chabers doesn’t help get work done; this though, helps keep our plough intact). Refreshing drinks will be provided during this time under the canopy of sunshine with cloud and possible showers; or showers, cloud and a chance of sun (depends which forecast you’ve looked at). The afternoon will be completed with enjoying a hogget on the Argentinian spit roast so that the full smoke aroma is attached to everyone, but will help keep away the midgies (we’ll keep that hidden until you arrive as I feel they need little introduction). Evening will commence with a quick trip to the local hall for a ceilidh (if they allow us in).

Sunday’s full cooked breakfast will be provided to ensure you cope till safely on the train to enjoy the extortionate food prices of whatever train company you are with that day.

We like to offer a high quality experience that encompasses all senses. Smidge, Deep Heat, and plasters are all included in this trip. May the banter be braw.