Opinion: Weaned calves, amorous bulls and stalking breaks

Two disturbed nights. Two nights sleeping with our heads shoved under pillows, cotton wool in our ears, the windows tightly shut and the curtains drawn to baffle any outside noise.

There could have been a van-full of poachers/burglars in the yard and we probably still wouldn’t have heard them.

But the mournful moos, baleful bawling and bellowing emanating from the foldyard tell their own story.

The calves born in the early part of the year and spring have been weaned.

Mums are still down the fields enjoying a brief freedom from their offspring and their calves have been brought home.

Not all the cows are enamoured with their new freedom, however.

One found her way home last night through a seemingly impenetrable hedge.

See also: Bobbi Mothersdale on broody bantams and ex-convent chickens

She’s back with the rest of the herd now.

After frightening a couple of motorists.

Not something you expect to see in the gloom, a large black cow wandering down the road. We shall have to spray her fluorescent yellow if she does it again.

It is a huge change for the calves.

Fields have been swapped for a building.

A menu of ad-lib milk from Mum and fresh grass has been exchanged for rolled barley and hay.

“The mournful moos and baleful bawling tell their own story”
Bobbi Mothersdale

Hunger pangs

They have taken time to recognise a feed trough as a new dinner plate and probably a lot of the bawling is from hunger until they get used to the new dining arrangements.  

Meanwhile, the bull seems to consider that life is definitely on the up.

He has been in solitary confinement for quite a while.

Spends much of his time with an eye glued to a small gap in his gate from where he can ogle a pen full of nubile young heifers. Now all his prayers have been answered and he is in a pen next to them.

Well, nearly all his prayers. They are destined for a meeting with the AI man.

Mr Bull will just have to wait a little longer until the herd comes inside and he can put into practice the chat-up lines and moves he has been perfecting for the reunion.

Land work has now been written off for this autumn.

Plans to plough a last field in preparation for drilling with spring beans next year have gone on hold as the land is just too greasy.

The tractor wheels were spinning on the wet land, despite dropping off the back furrow on the reversible plough.


Complying with new greening requirements takes some thought.

Like many other farmers, John grew beans this year to meet measures for the basic payment scheme.

As a result, the market for beans is fairly saturated and price offers for the crop reflect this – as does the collective gnashing of farmers’ teeth across the land.

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With land work finished, the tup in with the ewes and the herd coming inside, we are taking a week’s stalking holiday in Scotland.

We have been to various estates over the years, and stalked in many different conditions. Not me, however. Been there, done it.

I’m now a fair weather climber who is happy to amble in the vicinity of the cottage we usually take with friends, or go shopping.

‘Wee dram’

Frequently, the stalkers come back to the cottage for a “wee dram” after the day’s escapades on the hill.

It necessitates frequent top-ups in the supplies of this daily refreshment, even though we take enough liquid reserves to satisfy the most hardened drinkers. 

An estate we were on one year had retired all their Highland ponies. They had been used to fetch the stags off the hill, but the estate now favoured Argocats, eight-wheeled vehicles capable of traversing the steepest of mountain sides.

The ponies, however, still occupied a soft spot in the estate workers’ hearts. And allegedly provided them with a safe, reliable, ride home from the local hostelries on their occasional forays off the estate.  

These ponies were allowed to graze the entirety of the estate during the late winter and spring, but preferred to hang round the estate cottages in the hope of raiding the kennels or sheds for a bowl, or bag, of dog biscuits.

Rather like a pony we once had, Gypsy, who knew how to lift the snickle on the dog kennels with her nose, and was in every kennel for their biscuits if she got the chance.

One of the stalkers recalled how, after celebrating a successful day on the hill with a guest in the usual way, he still remembered (despite being a little the worse for wear) to lock up the store shed for the night.

“I had nearly got back to my cottage when I heard this kicking and grunting and bellowing coming out of the shed I had just secured.

“I went back, threw the shed door open, convinced I was going to find one of the ponies in there that had been after the dog biscuits.”

Instead, he was immediately flattened by a fully grown stag, hellbent on regaining the outside world.

“I was lucky,” he said.“That stag could have blinded me with its antlers or knocked me unconscious if I had tried to get in its way.”

He reckoned he was so relaxed (presumably with drink taken) that he just fell over.

“Nae bother,” he said.

Bobbi Mothersdale and husband John own the 81ha Lowther Farm near York. They have a suckler herd, a flock of sheep and arable crops. Two daughters, three grandchildren, three dogs, assorted poultry, an overgrown garden and country pursuits also take up their time.

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