Through all this seasonal excitement and disorder there is a constant – the stock – and the twice daily routine, come hell or high water, is as about as grounding as you can get.
The dry cold weather has been a bonus, though I am a bit of a weird one; I have absolutely no temperature awareness first thing in the morning. So when I jump out of bed in the dark at five a.m. (another of my bizarre, alien habits), I have difficulty knowing whether it’s freezing, normal for the time of year or sticky, damply warm. I have to rely on other indicators – rain, howling gale, frost, ice etc..
The last few mornings the indicators are for cold! I dress accordingly, donning a coat over my overalls, fleece gloves rather than my agricultural grey rubber ones, my thickest socks and warmest hat. And cold it has been; gloves stick to the metal of the gates, a layer of ice skims cracked-crackled on the water troughs and a thin wind blows through the cow palace. But in my post sleep cosy, rosy warmness I really don’t feel the biting chill beginning to seep into me.
The winter morning ‘feeding-up and bedding down’ has developed over the years into a finely honed choreographed routine. Cows, humans and dogs know the moves down to a tee. It consists of mucking out and sweeping up, scraping the lounging area with the bobcat (my indispensable mechanical farm worker), putting fresh forage along the feed barriers and bedding down the sleeping area.
As the skies lighten it’s time to check the sheep. In the milky morning light I find the world covered in a crisp, glittering frosting of white. My temperature regulator kicks in and I realise my hands and feet have turned to blocks of ice; I’m not as warmly snug as I thought. But it’s an hour or so to breakfast. First the various groups of sheep need checking and feeding oats and hay. Water troughs are examined for leaks and the icy crust on top broken and removed. Dogs hurl about the field and hedges revelling in the excitement of scent, intense and concentrated on cold still mornings.
It’s back for breakfast and a mad scramble to finish pieces of work, interspersed with all manner of seasonal chores, and before I know it the sun is slipping off the side of the world and it’s time to feed the animals again.