Renoir’s serenade

What do you wanna make those eyes at me for?

If they don’t mean what they say.

They give me unease, they make me freeze. They make me wish that I could just run for the trees.

You’re fooling around with me now. Well you jump about and then you run away. Well that’s not alright, you’re giving a bit of a fright. So Renoir you’ll find, I’ll leave you alone tonight.

Why don’t you wanna go back in now? ‘Cause if you don’t, I’ll need help.


All you need to create new words for songs is a bull and then 20 minutes in a tractor. And before I get people telling me about bulls, if any cow had given me the same look I would have wanted over the nearest hurdle, maybe not ASAP but quick, sharp. And he was not the only one acting funny.

Renoir, our bull, is normally very placid and not one to run sprints or look like a consestant for a steeplechase. I’m not someone who likes dealing with bulls but I am aware he is pretty good in bull terms in his personality. When they were turfed out of the byre so that I could give them another bale of hay there was snow on the ground. His greeting at the door was a look, a shake of the head and a wee back kick as if he was wanting a part in the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies. Nothing wrong with that, just my gut wasn’t happy and it was nothing to do with what I had eaten for breakfast. The first line of the song came to mind. The rest of the song was going through my head while I minimised exposure (aka clamoured over the nearest hurdle to exit handling area) and got on with the work. This went without any bother until I had to get them all back in…and the lot refused! Out came the recycled red, energy buckets. These were jingled (rattled when there is no festive snow regardless of the time of year) at the feed barrier which got the top three cattle in the herd hierarchy prancing back in quick step. However, Renoir is currently the only non muppet of the three who has figured out how to put his head through. The other two guard the rest of the barrier ensuring no other member of the pack gets any nuts, because, well, if they can’t why should anyone else?


Eventually they were all tucked back up in the byre before the next snow flurry hit. I just hope Renoir soon forgets his ambition for dancing with the Sugar Plum Fairies.


The snow stampede

For three days the croft has been in that ‘oh so magical until you need to work in it’ setting. The snow came Wednesday night and has decided to take up residence. No problem, most things are set up for ensuring all animals can get food and shelter. For the calves wintering outdoors, their ring feeder is still filled with the majority of the original large bale of hay. However, it is a useful tie to give them a bit extra and get them use people. As I filled up the buckets (yes, the same recycled energy buckets that are the same colour as the postie’s van and cause cow bandits to be in operation (see last post)), the calves appeared from the woods as if a secret whistle has been  called for them. I was then followed up the fence line like they were at a dog training session. However, they have always done that so didn’t think much of it. I was oblivious to their scheming. Little was I to know that as soon as I opened the gate I would be greeted by a stampede. Picture the wildebeasts in The Lion King. Only I wasn’t practicing a roar before the stampede. Lugs, who is the spokes calf for the three had his head in one bucket with such force I trying to keep the bucket and myself from going backwards. The second in command made a beeline for the open gate, I quickly dropped the buckets to attract them back (I know I need to do some running practice but I prefer planned sessions so the flash image of chasing the calves round the garden, house and car were not in any of my goals for the day). At the time I dropped the buckets to get the calves back, four of our five sheep nose dived for the garden (which was where I had left their bucket). See, this is one of the problems we have this year in that I ordered separate foods for the cows and sheep. To be fair, it was done in the autumn when the cows and sheep were out frolicking in different fields. No problem I thought at the time, the cow nuts are not suitable to sheep, nor is the sheep food supposed to be eaten by the cows, that will be easy to sort them. Ha, I take that back. This means high calibre tactics are enforced. The percentage of food in each bucket is determined by who has to be fed first, how you attract the right animals to the right food, who can defend their food the most, and how quickly you can run from one area to the other while getting five sheep to merrily follow you. The nose diving sheep were awarded a red card for their dramatics and sent back 50 paces…to their trough and onto their side of the fence. Calmness restored. Until….

I spot that we have one audacious ewe. Looks like I need to go back to the drawing board of feeding tactics if she can put her head into Lug’s bucket!


Bandits in the byre

SSE (Scottish and Southern Energy) obviously feels it is of high importance to notify me 6 times about an up coming power cut. 007CBD75-A519-44FF-8DEF-95B2D05A9E32.jpegThis is after a proposed power cut last week which I only received 4 letters for and never happened.

Should I wonder why they think I need to be told so much? Or do they think I may never receive some of them? Do they think the steers will hijack the postie on the way past the byre? The cows are good at acting like bandits (think NY gangster style) if they think you have food. Recycled energy buckets are used to give cows nuts, energy buckets are postbox red, postie drives red van, van must means lots of cow nuts, postie approaches croft with the imagine of wagons crossing the Wild West, he has a will to survive and return home after shift, therefore he is likely to surrender remaining post to cows and give only one SSE letter to the crofting wifie as the cows happily munch through the loot of five SSE envelopes.

Man, can you imagine being on the Communication and public relations of SSE’s rural settings department? What else do they have to factor in to ensure those of us in the sticks receive their information?

More annoyingly though, their letter states they will give our details to third parties for marketing research and training purpose; I’d like to know what research they have behind so many letters! Who else has hijacking cows? Unless it’s normally sheep…?


Taking a heifer by the horns…

Hesca, you hairy heifer of a baffoon! OK, all I did was open the byre door to turf in 3 small bales. That doesn’t mean just because you were right on the other side you have the entitlement to exit byre and do a hay taste test before the others get it. Yes, this luxury of you wintering in doors is new to both of us but really? And, between you and the outside world, was me and then the hay. So, had little to fear of you going off gallivanting. However, on my part was a Princess Bride attitude ‘fight to the death’ (and not the battle of wit) as the idea of retrieving you was not on the ‘to do’ list. Our arm/horn wrestle was a near same strength deal, although, you looked like you were contemplating what you should have for diner, I was contemplating having you for dinner if I didn’t give it my last drop of lactic acid and win the wrestling match. To be fair, I wouldn’t have done that with any of the others. From wrestling, came ballet. I’m not sure having to stand with one leg out to keep you in while both arms were desperately trying to lift bales into the ring feeder is the most elegant, but, I’m pretty sure there is a ballet move like it (however, not many ballerinas work in wellies and jeans, nor do I plan to feed you in a tutu).

So Hesca, you may have thought that little tussle was a minor block to getting hay, but thank goodness it wasn’t Fergus, the untrained steer who would be more suited to lumberjack than ballerina.

Next time I need to toss hay in I’ll be checking who’s where. In fact, could you just have a buddy system and line up at the far wall, mooing to indicate your number when I clang a bell?


41 days until…

These are not just any cows, these are Shetlands who can get their fodder by fairy lights. OK, the fairy lights were put up for a BBQ in the byre to celebrate the mini crofter’s baptism. And why take them down? Got enough work to be doing and as the nights draw in, it’s nice for once not to need a head torch for every event outside.  Even if the cows show no interest in their luxury, I like them. And besides, that should mean I don’t need to put up any more lights this year…I wonder if the cows would like their own tree in the byre? I could decorate it will sugar beets and make tinsel with cow nuts. Make a star out of straw and place it in an energy bucket to hold it upright. Wonder why no pet shops have ever thought of this as a selling product at this time of year…


Log ’em up, move ’em out


After Tim brought down a trailer full of logs from one of our fallen trees, he asked for a hand in getting them into the wood shed. Nae bother, until it’s time for the mini crofter to be up from his nap. Discussion on who does what job, he takes the mini crofter, I take splitting wood (yes, really, I like my outdoors). Then the ‘shower’ started. Soon it turned to become sheets of rain and a sharp wind. Well, you get warmed twice by the wood at least.

But, it does take some skill. Skill? What skill? Ah, the skill of splitting them without causing an injury to yourself (jaw bone got it once and I can tell you it’s a tad painful and remarkable for not requiring medical treatment) or destruction to the things around you (considerable damage to the extension cable was my best target so far). OK, health and safety isn’t easy when you have no idea where the logs are going to split to. But hey, when it’s raining in sheets and your safety goggles keep steaming up you have to pay close attention to the splitter, keeps you on your toes and ready to dive in any direction. I’m sure it’s good for your core muscles, they really should incorporate log splitting into Pilates, always better to achieve two things at once…


Bales and buggies

As the cows have been munching quite quickly through their hay, I realised they would need a new bale before the Crofter came home. Come in ‘wee bales’. Aye, not the big, round bales where you feel like you are dislocating your shoulder, giving yourself a hernia and with all your might trying to negotiate rolling them between the 1958 tractor and the coal bunker of cow nuts (and that’s just to get the round bales out of the shed) so you can get the pregnant tractor with the front loader to come pick them up and drop them in the ring feeder. Yes, I call it the pregnant tractor. Why? Because last year while pregnant I was told to stop ‘heavy’ lifting. Although no one defined heavy I took that to mean anything more than 20 kilo (chicken food comes in 20kg bags – toss over shoulder and off you go; cow nuts come in 25 kilo sacks and are a bit of a pain for shifting so hence my definition). With that as a definition I generally did stop heaving large, round bales and lifting the ring feeders (most of the time..) so a new tractor was needed. Cue Dingwall implement sale and another tractor was added to the family. Both have got their uses but the pregnant tractor is too tall to fit inside the shed. Hence rolling bales out to the tractor. However, on this day we only had one large bale left and as the Crofter was due home soon, I reverted to the easier option…

However, the term wee or small is also deceptive. These are our own bales. That’s right, ones that we made ourselves. Not an easy task and probably cheaper to buy in hay but maybe not as satisfying and not always easy to come by. Not always made perfectly either. Some are really light, falling apart if you touch them; others decivingly heavy. On this occasion I was attempting the chain reaction by myself of shifting several with the mini crofter observing. Except he decided he really wanted to be a part of it which meant I did try and combine the two…And the answer is no. Or at least not with the current set up. A bit of adjustment would work I think. If the buggy makers could make two long planks to go above the shopping basket on the buggy to balance the bale would be good. Wee bales generally need to be kept with equal pressure on both lots of baler twine so that the bale does not split open on route to destination (that is depending on how well they were made). This means usually standing like I have a bad back and walking like a penguin. Moving and Handling policies to facilitate better lifting? Ha, aye right. I usually just want the quickest option. That and I’m not sure they would like my idea of lifting it over a fence and into the ring feeder to avoid a long trek to a gate and bog field. Particularly when I had decided to do it ‘on the way past’ and I didn’t have my wellies. I looked more like a scarecrow by the end with hay everywhere. Taking them in a wheel barrow would have been an easier option, I would just need a way to attach a wheelbarrow to the front of the buggy, or is that why people buy double buggies?