Thursday, April 26, 2012

And it was all going so well...

Calving began here at Fliskmillan at the end of last month. Since Mr Plums ran with his girls from mid June right through to March this year, and circumstances dictated that I couldn't get the cows tested to see if they were pregnant or not, it's a bit of a lottery as to what comes out and when. This year he'll get two months run at it, and then everyone will be tested, but last year it was all setting up and disorganisation.


Six calves have arrived so far, which isn't bad going. Four are to experienced, older mothers, the other two to first-timers just approaching their third birthdays. Of these two, the first - Narrachan Geal 5th of Glenkinglass - had a bit of a problem with retained placenta, but seems to have rid herself of it. Her calf was the first female born on the farm, and so becomes Una of Fliskmillan - much to the delight of my neighbour Una. The second - Albanach Raineach 2nd of Glenkinglass - had a little boy calf names Daibhidh after a friend who shares its birthday. He may or may not keep that name, as bulls don't get registered as pedigree before they're 14 months old, and only then if they look like they've got potential as breeders. Otherwise it's the snip and a short life of getting as fat as possible before being turned into delicious beef.


The other four calves all come from Inchmarnock cows, and the first three were fairly drama-free births. The whole fold is currently in a field halfway up the hill, and I check them four or five times a day. Mostly there's nothing changed, but just occasionally something small and slimy greets me with a weak lowing. This is the joy of Highland Cattle - they generally have few complications calving, and tend to be good mothers.


As I've mentioned before, all the calves have to be tagged and tested before they reach the tender age of 28 days. Up until now, this has been relatively easy. I approach mum and new born calmly, wait until mum signals that she's OK with me going near her calf, pin it to the ground as gently as possible and get the tags in quickly. There's usually a bit of noise then, and I have a nice graze on my neck where the fourth calf's mother was a little apprehensive and I wasn't paying quite enough attention. All in all, though, it's been a relatively simple chore.


Up until yesterday.


This latest calf is another heifer - I think. I can't be 100% sure, as I've not been able to get close enough to inspect it. Mum is Mairi Clare of Inchmarnock and I knew she was going to be trouble. Of all the cows I bought last year, she's the only one who has shown any sign of aggression, particularly towards dogs. Twice now whilst I've been walking quietly amongst the fold, hand-feeding them hay to get them used to me, she's lashed out with a back leg.* I approached her calf with extra caution when I went to try and tag it, and I was well so to do.


She lulled me in by being wary but letting me get close at first. There was a bit of snorting and waving of head, but the calf came up to me and let me scratch it under the chin. As soon as I put a hand over its back though, Mairi Clare bellowed and charged. Fortunately I am reasonably lithe and was prepared. I backed off sharpish and left mother and calf to themselves. 


The calf still needs to be tagged, of course, but I will have to adopt a new strategy. I have a temporary pen set up in the calving field and I'll get either mother or calf into it so that I can work without fear of being impaled. That's a two person job though, so will have to wait until my brother can help me at the weekend. 


It presents me with a further problem though. This farm is much accessed by the general public. Norman's Law is a popular walking spot, and the newly created Tay Coastal Path runs through several of my fields. The ancient drovers road to Lindores Abbey passes over more. There's hardly a day goes past, let alone a weekend, when I don't see someone walking somewhere. Quite often it's families with small children and dogs.


You can't put a sign up saying 'Beware of the Bull' or even 'There are cows in this field.' In our litigious age, that would be taken as an admission that you knew the bull was dangerous or that the cows might be unfriendly. I can't lock the gates - even if I wanted to - because there are various public rights of way over my land. Alas, it doesn't matter how stupid a member of the public is in their behaviour, if they get gored by one of my cows then I am open to prosecution, and at the very least a claim for compensation. I spend over a grand a year on insurance for this, but it helps if I can be seen to have taken every reasonable precaution to prevent injury in the first place.


Most of my cows are placid. Several will let me scratch them behind the ears and they all approach - even Mairi Clare with an evil glint in her eye -  if I have a handful of hay for them. The bull is so laid back you sometimes have to physically push him out of the way of the gate so you can open it to get through. This is what I want in my fold, and I hope he has passed the temperament on to his calves. Given the small number I intend to keep, I really can't afford to have one bolshy heifer in amongst them, particularly given that most of the day-to-day animal husbandry I have to do on my own.


So in six months time, when this latest arrival is weaned from her mum, Mairi Clare will be bundled off to the sales. As a nine year old, she'll probably not make anything like what I paid for her, but she's got a good few years left in her before she goes to the dog food factory. It's a bit one step forwards two steps back in my attempts to build up numbers, but at least (I think) she's given me a heifer calf who'll be here for many years.


Unless she has a black moustache like her mum.


Mairi Claire of Inchmarnock (and last year's calf)
*a cow has a surprising amount of articulation in its back leg. Unlike a horse, where you only have to watch out directly behind, a cow will get you anywhere within a sixty degree arc around the back end. It hurts, too.

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3 Comments:

Blogger terlee said...

There's always one in every crowd, isn't there?

I suppose a sign saying "Enter at your own risk" wouldn't work either? I appreciate the fact people have the right to wander over your property, though by the same token your farm--a working one, by the way--should be exempt from whatever foolishness a person brings on themselves.

Yeah, I know. In a perfect world.

April 26, 2012 3:55 pm  
Blogger JamesO said...

It's actually best to leave no sign at all. I've blown it, of course, by posting that I know this is an aggressive cow. I just have to hope she doesn't go for anyone.

It's a crazy world, but I can't keep people off my land, and have to accept responsibility if they hurt themselves on it. Who'd be a landowner, eh?

April 26, 2012 5:49 pm  
Blogger terlee said...

I always felt weird tromping across someone's property whenever I was hiking outside of Edinburgh. And I never went into a field with heilan coos--not with those horn!!

In America, of course, a No Trespassing sign means exactly that and if you die a mysterious death, well, you were warned, weren't you? (Just kidding...sort of) ;}

April 26, 2012 7:39 pm  

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