brown hare

Still hush. I woke this morning to silence. I pulled back the curtains; the yard in front of the house was littered with a confetti of rose petals looking for all the world like pale pink snow; flags and rushes around the pond were askew and bent; tossed, trashed leafed branches scattered hither and thither. Rubbing gritty eyes I wandered to the window overlooking the back garden. Leaves were strewn across the grass, broad beans collapsed, showing their downy silver underbellies whilst the washing hung in heavy sodden droops, now leadened and deadened after a night of wild dervish dancing. The first gentle fingers of sunlight touched the farm with deceptive normality.

Wrestling on clothes, head cotton-wool and eyes still grainy. I splashed cold water. Fumbled for socks, jacket and waterproof trousers, pulled on wellies and went to let the dogs out. No excited morning greeting today, they were almost self-effacing. Patting my thigh I indicated we were going to check the cows, calves and youngsters in Flop Meadow…

Let me take you back to yesterday when wind and rain threatened – starting, stopping; spattering and retracting; dark clouds ominously collecting overhead then blown hither and thither only to bank up once more. The youngsters (still on home farm; sitting out the three weeks before their second BT vaccination on Friday) had broken through into our hay crop. Having managed to climb a vertical hedge bank and stomp-stamp-crash a newly laid hedge they then ran helter-skelter in excited grass frenzy through the meadow. Collecting them up and remonstrating with them I decided to put them in with the steadying influence of the two freshly calved cows and calves. The field was secure, there was enough grass and it was just for two days. But more chaos ensued. The yearlings, still wound up, were particularly drawn to Ginny and her week-old baby; they stampeded around her in raucous enthusiasm. Ginny was distraught and desperately tried to protect her calf from this overbearing interest. Give them a few minutes I thought and they would settle. But no, as the storm, wind and rain gathered momentum so did their high-spirited behaviour. Ginny started up a rhythmic bellowing, the youngsters echoed her, whilst the calf tried to find peace and quiet in an impenetrable patch of rush and thistle. Strangely there seemed to be no interest in the other calf and cow who continued to graze and rest calmly on the periphery of the goings on. My presence seemed to increase their agitation so I took to squinting at them through hedge. Even though Ginny’s bellows continued all day and into the night occasionally booming over the raging wind nothing untoward was happening to her calf.

…and so back to this morning. All appeared calm as I opened Flop meadow gate, albeit the grass was flattened and skewed by the wind and rain. But my presence seemed to rekindle their bizarre behaviour. Odd? I’ll have to move the cows and calves out, I thought, as I headed off to the truck to check the rest of the stock.

There I found ewes and lambs clustered around the top gate in Cow Moor. Unusual. As I appeared they too began shouting, calling and surging around me, pushing to get out of the field. This was weird. They had grass, they had water; and they’ve certainly experienced worse storms than last night, yet they were tense with anxiety. Maybe I’ll have to move them too, I thought, as I drove down to check the main herd in the River Meadows.

These would certainly be happy and contented I thought; sheltered from the worst of the wind and rain with ample grazing. How wrong was I? As soon as they saw me walking over the field they started towards me, ears forward semaphoring madly, restlessly regrouping, high-stepping and collecting up their calves. I sensed the beginnings of herd panic and sent the dogs back to the truck as it could become dangerous for them. I tried moving amongst them making soothing sounds and reassuring noises. But they would have none of it. They continued to shout and move nervously about looking around for an imagined threat or imagined enemy. What was going on with all my animals this morning?

Calm, contentment and peace has now returned. What had affected all the stock? A brewing storm? The full moon? Or maybe the approaching summer solstice? Possibly a touch of all three – I haven’t experienced the like of it before.

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