Crofting Life, Livestock

Charging Bull

Ok, this is probably the first in a long time that I have not used song titles, lyrics or even my own adaptions to songs in the title (it’s also the first time in a long time that I have written anything). A few months ago I did not deal with a Charging Bull (like the statue outside Wall Street), but a very real, charging steer. People at Wall Street apparently have to deal with high stress levels, think they might have fancied a bit of fresh air and lending us a hand?

Some of you may remember we use to have a cow called Breena. Breena, who on her first day with us went charging through an electric wire. She then settled down until her last two pregnancies with us when she turned absolutely mental. Two strikes, she was sent to her forever home (not without her last stand at the abottoir, for those that read that story) and I thought my troubles with mental cows was a thing of the past.

However, (and a big however!), over the summer we have been moving cattle around while our reseeded grass got established. Out of one field, into a trailer and just 5 mins round the corner. All went swimmingly (well, swimmingly like Eric the Eel when you are taking down electric fence, putting it back up and trying to work with livestock). Swimmingly, that is, apart from one. Jack Daniels. Jack was one of four boys born here two years ago. He has often been hestitant but that’s workable. I could still get him to a bucket, and we had moved him several times before. But his anxiety suddenly escalated. Into a new league. On this one occasion, all the others walked into the pen, loaded and moved. Apart from him. He refused point blank to go anywhere near the loading pen.

So, with that, I went back down the day after the initial attempt to try the good, old bucket of nuts and taking it soft and slow. The gentle buzz of bees, the gleams of sun being filtered through the trees. He would follow the bucket to within a foot of where I needed him before going back to his comfy corner (in the furthest away corner at that). The morning quickly past and it was soon lunchtime. Back up was called. The Crofter arrived with two mini crofters to see if we could rig up some electric wire to halve the field to help nudge him in the right direction. Nope, just like Breena (bless her), he went straight through and away he went.

Troops were regathered, lunch fed to very hungry people and strategies sought. Which was, ‘oh pants, we need to check the bee hives for potential swarming’. Yes, to get a land flowing with milk and honey, it all takes time. Once the hive checks were completed, and we got back to steer strategies, we decided to ring in help. Surely another couple of people to run about a field would help?

It started so perfectly. Along a fence line, towards the pen he aimed. Backup spaced out in a way a rugby commentator would be proud of, when, on the space of a fifty pence piece he double backed on himself and set off like Mo Farah. In fact, not only like Mo, he decided to try the hurdles and jumped the fence into the neighbour’s field. He was nearly ready to go over the next fence like a criminal in an urban housing estate trying to avoid an arrest when we managed to divert him though a gate into a square penned section of a field. Barbed wire, new stock fence. Excellent. Set up some hurdles, the livestock trailer awaiting; he could walk in and voila. Attempt one. After he started eyeing up jumping the stone wall, e sent someone to the road side to persuade him not to. Attempt two. I then jumped the barbed wire to put him off jumping that. Alas, he didn’t care and jumped the barbed wire, a jump that a cross country Olympic horse would have been proud of.

Great. Just great. Plan C (or D): let’s try and get him to jump back into his original field and leave him to chill overnight. And this is where things took a turn. A bit of old fencing, a few loose posts: great, let’s aim to get him over that. Perfect opportunity as he has shown he’s got showjumping potential. He followed the line perfectly, headed for the dipped fence before coming to a complete stop. Maybe I should have complemented him on his jumping? But he then turned, at first running off at an angle to the side of me before suddenly turning and came straight at me, head on. Life does not flash before your eyes. More, ‘this will be very painful, will I be thrown up in the air or trampled (I kid you not, that was my thoughts)’, and with the only thing I had, I walloped him on the nose with all my might.

I will not lie, I am so glad my Guidance Teacher never suggested being a Matador (turkey farmer did come up in one book but never Matador). I never wanted to be a Matador but if I had, my career potential had instantly crumpled (don’t get me wrong, I like cows, but without the drama, another subject not recommended for me). With a steer only taking one swipe at me, I wanted out of the field.

While the steer headed back to eyeing up jumping over the stone dyke; some old fence posts were uprooted to enable the fence to be pushed down to give space for him to step over. I exited the field while the Crofter and two other brave men tried one last chance. Thankfully, Jack D saw the opportunity and took it. And while he looked thankful to be back in his own field, he was now searching for pals. He didn’t want to be on his own. But while he wanted a support group, we left him to chill, praying that he wouldn’t try jumping again. Now, this all happened when we had a slot booked for the following day for a steer to go to the abottoir. And his name was now on it…if we could get him loaded.

But how to get him into a pen? We decided to take down our house cow who is very chilled, very slow, and is the herd matriarch. She quickly got him following her like a star struck teenager with a celebrity. She did several short laps of the field, each time bringing him back. But he would not enter the pen. She now wanted to know what on earth this was all in aid of and when could she go back home! We needed to get to the abottoir and were fast approaching our cut off time. As the clock ticked, we had to abandon him and quickly nip back to load another steer to take to the abottoir. But we were still stuck.

Now, my trip to the abottoir went fine. That is for someone who has recently been charged at. Discussions were had with an experienced livestock handler. So knowing I had a backup plan, I then headed off to chat with a local farmer, who told me where to find another farmer. So, in the middle of a farmer’s field, as he was trying to wrap silage, over the noise of the machinery, it’s a former I had never spoken to before, I was provided with a plan. The use of this farmer’s handling area and knowledge of how to get the steer up to it.

We were not foolish though. And we still sought help from the local Farming Community. And it went like clockwork. The Matriarch, her calf and Jack Daniels quietly walked out of a field gate and up a road, into a handling area and with only a wee blip at the livestock trailer, you would never had known that I had been google searching if any Vets in the Highlands had experience on Safari’s firing long distance tranquilizers.

So why write the story now? Well, Jack came back to our fields and remained with our bull until last week when he took his final trip. I have been counting down to it. I will admit I have been pretty twitchy near any of the cows recently. The two of us in particular have kept our distance. He did try one last chance to break me and nearly succeeded. Thankfully, the likes of Hugh, Ian, Andrew and Graham have been the unsung heroes of the livestock world. All four men offered their knowledge, time and support.

As for me? To help get over my confidence dip, we’ve just bought a bull. A massive bull. One that looks like a bison. This ought to be interesting…

Crofting Life, Livestock

Milkcow Blues Boogie

This is the story of a wee Shetland coo.

Dryope came to us from Yorkshire having been on a farm where the herdess was a cheese maker. She was our very first cow and she has always been the matriarch of the herd. She may not be a fine, prize cow, but she comes to a whistle, we use her to help guide other cattle who may be nervous, and she is our milking cow.

To do this we just take her surplus (this is a lot easier than not milking and then having a cow with mastitis that needs medical intervention and hand milked to remove clots to enable both the calf and cow a trouble free feed). Her calf is not taken off, she comes in, gets a treat, a mini milker is used and then off she goes back to the field.

From this brief daily share session, we get plenty of milk (and a good layer of cream). Enough in fact to try all kinds of things: everything from hot chocolates, custard, ice-cream, cheese, and butter. For the calves that we share her with, she has had six and has fostered one (the Saler that is now also milked). Two of her calves have stayed with us, two have gone to new owners, and several (after a couple of years frolicking our fields), have provided us, and others, with beef.

We winter cattle inside to avoid heavy poaching. This gives us dung which goes back to the fields for making grass (and hay). It also goes to the veg garden and orchard to give the plants the needed nutrients for growing fruit and veg.

As she was from a milking herd she had to patiently wait while we clumsily learned what to do. Over the past couple of years, our dairy knowledge has increased significantly. But this is Dryope’s last year though. The past couple of winters her age has been showing. She struggles more to get up and down. Her movement is slow. In cow terms, she is doing remarkable, as she is a fair age. She will be missed but the idea of forcing her through another cold, harsh winter is not pleasant.

At the moment though, she is grazing the grass close to the house while she watches her heifer calf, a bonnie wee thing, bound about the field. The ice cream maker is on nearly every day and the cheese making equipment are back out again while we enjoy having her.