Keeping the home fires burning during calving

Contrary to the popular belief of my relatives, I do not spend all day watching horse racing and eating chocolates. That would be impossible – racing is normally only on for three hours a day.

In fact, I was in charge of the farm over the weekend, as Jake was accompanying Archie on Alnwick RFC Under-11s’ rugby tour to Yorkshire. He left some very simple instructions: “Check the cows and give them some silage”. He had someone else lined up to deal with the sheep.Jake pointed out one cow in particular – a Sim-Luing, which was likely to calve when he was away. Our vet Joe has a theory about some of the woollier breeds of cattle: “Where there’s hair, beware”. This doesn’t seem to apply to the hirsute Sim-Luings, which are generally well-natured.

However, even the mildest creature can lash out in the throes of labour, so my main plan was to keep my fingers crossed and hope that nothing happened. As a backup strategy, I also checked the shed every few hours for tell-tale signs. These could range from the cow looking a bit restless to the presence of a new small calf without an ear-tag.The cows generally seem to like to calve in the dark – particularly if there is likely to be any element of difficulty involved and especially if they require a vet. Indeed, bank holiday nights can usually be relied on for a calving crisis – but not so much this year as Easter is so late.

To minimise problems, we have been carrying out a late-night check during the spring calving period. Given that this happens every year, you would think we would be well prepared. Generally we are, except in the matter of torches. We do have a large collection of torches, it’s just that none of them seem to work when needed, much to Jake’s exasperation.I think I have come up with a solution for next year – I am going to buy a wind-up version. Apart from the practicalities, it will make a pleasant change to see a torch being wound up by Jake, rather than the other way round.

To date, calving has gone reasonably well, and our calving percentage stands at over 100% due to the arrival of another set of twins. We are not sure whether the heifer will be able to manage to feed both calves, but it is good to know we have a spare in case of a disaster. As for the Sim-Luing, thankfully she was standing quietly at the feed barrier every time I visited and there was no need to call in the cavalry (our neighbour, Selby).Unexpectedly, distributing the silage proved to be much harder work. Some of our organic silage is full of organic thistles. The stalks are like wooden skewers keeping the bale together, so it takes a huge amount of effort to unwind it. As I struggled with the bale, the thought of some heavy-duty herbicide became strangely appealing. We don’t rent the ground this silage came from anymore, and maybe it’s just as well.

Jake and Archie arrived back from their tour in good form. I learned that the boys had played well and the parents had all enjoyed themselves. At any rate, I am pleased to say that no adults, children or livestock, either in Yorkshire or at home, were harmed as a result of the rugby tour, for which I am very grateful.In other developments, the range is very busy with troops at the moment. You can always tell when there is going to be a major training exercise, because Tardis-shaped objects start to materialise on the hill. What sort of hi-tech, cutting-edge military equipment can this be? Well, portable toilets, actually.

Some might think them a blot on the National Parks landscape, but I don’t agree, as I have had occasion to be grateful for them in the past, and probably not for the reason you might think.The occasion was many years ago, beyond the statute of limitations (Commander, please note). I set off for work one frosty morning and the road was black. However, as I drove down the hill I realised that it was covered in black ice and I couldn’t control the car.There was nothing to do but drop through the gears, keep telling myself not to touch the brake and hope for the best. I knew I probably wouldn’t be able to negotiate the bend at the bottom of the hill but, miraculously, as I left the road I encountered a military portaloo, which heroically prevented me from continuing into the river. Even more miraculously, there was no-one inside it at the time.A couple of RAF NCOs came over, put the portaloo back on its feet and helped me back onto the road. I can honestly say that I have never been more relieved to use a portable toilet in my life.

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