You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘drama’ category.

the story of Marmite...and her unexpected confinement

Back in March 2008 we had a first for the farm. Gwen, a sweet cow, gave birth to twin heifer calves. They were lusty, tiny, pretty and quite adorable – we called them Marmite and Mustard-Seed.  For twins they did pretty well considering it was one of our sodden monsoon summers where all vestige of pasture/grass/herbage was swallowed up in a quagmire of soul-sucking mud.

Time moved on and I decided to keep Marmite as one of my replacement heifers. Though not as big as I would like, she, nevertheless, had a lovely temperament and reasonable conformation. Also I was rather curious as to how she would develop in the future.

During their second summer our youngsters are grazed on some rented land a couple of miles away. They do well on it, and it’s a safe environment for them have their silly season as adolescence before joining the main herd and taking on the full mantle of bovine responsibility.

One misty October morning, not long before they were due to return home for the winter, we were rather taken aback to find a monstrous and completely hideous Friesian bull standing possessively in the midst of our coy young virgins.

‘What the heck…!’ Robert exclaimed. Not only were we somewhat surprised as the land is well fenced, but somewhat wary too…Friesian bulls are not known for their docility.

18-month old heifers are unabashedly flagrant in their sexual desires; bawling outrageously, they pant, salivate and sweat in sexual fervour, mounting and pursuing their peers relentlessly – willing or unwilling – and so advertising their condition to all and sundry. Luckily this heightened state of oestrous only lasts twelve to twenty-four hours whereupon, with a flick of a switch, they morph back into the demure bovine maidens they were.

When we found them that morning there was no sign whatsoever of a rampant orgy having taken place. The heifers couldn’t have been more demure or uninterested…in fact it was more a case of them gathering around us, all sideways glances, breathy exclamations and outraged mutterings about ‘that awful disgusting, wicked BULL that was letching…yes, LETCHING at them’ and ‘could we possibly just, please, get rid of him…or move them immediately – NOW’ – which of course we did.

After having paid a visit to the neighbouring dairy farm to ask them to keep tighter control of their bull and to remove him from our land without delay, we went back to inspect the heifers. We looked under tails for signs of bulling, or worse, penetration; we looked along flanks for signs mounting; we looked at legs for signs of strains (large bulls can occasionally damage young, immature heifers’ hips and back legs – amongst other things!). Nothing, nada, nil, zilch.

‘Well, that’s a relief’ said Robert.

‘Don’t you believe it’ said I ‘No way would a bull have scaled field and fence for nothing!’

But as to who or which we were clueless and would only find out during the winter when we could keep a close eye on the heifers. Of course nowadays there are other implications of strange cattle getting into a closed herd – disease, bTB and the like, which can have lasting repercussions on the health status of one’s herd and potentially be far more damaging than an under-aged heifer becoming in-calf.

Unfortunately, yes, you’ve guessed, it was Marmite, by far the smallest and most immature of the group, who was the culprit.

I watched her anxiously through much of the winter, feeding her extra rations. I watched her anxiously during the spring as she began to swell with calf. I watched her anxiously as she neared her time, keeping her in a field close to the house so she could be checked frequently. I watched her anxiously as I was worried about an underage Ruby heifer calving a large Friesian cross.

She had us on our toes. Her udder swelled to huge proportions as did her teats…

the largest horsefly ever - tabanus sudeticus

‘It must be soon’ sighed Olly ‘Look at the size of her teats!’ and then found they were being bitten by the largest horseflies imaginable, causing Marmite considerable discomfort.

biting Marmite's teat

The waiting seemed interminable, forever, until one evening she was slow in coming for her food and was even slower the next morning. Within a couple of hours she was calving. Within minutes the sack was showing. Within seconds the calf was halfway out and completely trapped in a thick, bluish, membrane. I broke the membrane, got the calf breathing and went to pull the rest of it out. It was stuck…firm…! My hands, slippy and wet from membrane and birthing fluid, could not get a good grip….I shouted, screamed, hollered – but I was halfway down a field, out of earshot of the house and people. I bawled again…no one. There was nothing for it I would have to strip using my overalls as ropes. There I was – down to bare-nothings and pulling for victory when thankfully Olly appeared. Relief!  Together we pulled the m-o-n-s-t-e-r out…but wait…she wasn’t, she was beautiful, actually beautiful!

newborn

The colour of bitter chocolate with a black dorsal stripe and black fringing around her ears; her nose was slate blue-black and deep black kohl outlined her ridiculously long lashed eyes – she was a hybrid, a fusion,  a mix between calf, fawn and foal!

just 24 hours old

just 24 hours old

Mother and daughter continue doing well….

...happy result!

roe deer

A few days before my knee op I inadvertently found myself at the centre of drama taking place along one of our boundaries. I’ve never seen, heard or experienced anything similar before. No one to date can shed any light on the affair, not even a dear friend of mine, an elderly knowledgeable person who spends most of his spare time walking and stalking woods, meadows, moor and heath filming wildlife, especially deer. I’d love to know if you or anyone you know may have come across a similar incidence.

It all began at about 2.30 to 3 o’clock on Sunday afternoon as I was going outside to do various jobs. I was pulling on my wellies when the most spine-chilling screams pierced the air from the direction of Dung Field. The dogs, instantly alert, ears pricked, eyes brightly-wide, adrenalin pumping at the expectation of chase, blood and gore.   Somehow managing to rein them in I began to walk in the direction of the blood-curdling shrieks. From experience I knew the sound was made by roe deer and my immediate thought was that a deer had become hung up in a fence and was being attacked, its twin or mother trying to protect it.

Walking up the remnant of our old green lane past Turkey Shed and the orchard the macabre noises proved too great a temptation for the Skye and Ness (generally paragons of ‘oh-look-how-good-I-am’ virtue in front of the puppy) who took off at the speed of light totally ignoring my stern commands. In a matter of seconds two already exhausted roe deer burst through the hedge alongside Dung Field in terrified panic –  Willow, no longer able to contain herself,  broke away from my side in hot pursuit (unfortunately I was leadless as I had been on my way out to do jobs around the yard, not walk dogs). One of the deer just managed to leap the fence into the orchard whilst the other stalled her jump and seemed on the point of collapse. There was no sign of either Skye or Ness. Willow, however, continued her pursuit. Too small and slight to bring down a deer, she nevertheless sensed her quarry weakening and so proceeded to dance round the creature with frenetic high-pitched yips, occasionally darting in and out with small nips. Horrified I bawled at her as I launched myself through the thick bramble, blackthorn, hawthorn and god-knows-what-else-hedge, tripped and stumbled over rusting barbed wire and sagging stock fencing to get to the pair. None of my admonishments, bellows or shouts had the slightest effect on Willow, turned frenzied hunter with her quarry.

The strange spectacle continued…the young doe, too worn out to run, still managed to put up a good fight by bucking, kicking and butting Willow as she circled and danced around her. The pair moved forward at a smart, if circuitous, pace through thicket, tangled woodland, ditches and streams with me in hot pursuit frantically trying to break through Willow’s total deafness to my commands. We must have travelled a couple of miles like this when eventually the exhausted deer collapsed in a deep-sided stream bordering Hannaborough Moor. My chance at last! I approached the doe, willing her to stay put; Willow suddenly became consciously aware of me too and alert to my boiling wrath at her behaviour. I managed to steal up on the deer and hold her whilst I gave her the quick once over. Apart from exhaustion and fear she was well covered, healthy, with no injuries that I could detect. Holding the deer still I managed to grasp and hold onto the quicksilver Willow who was given her the telling off of her life. (She’s now learnt, as all my dogs, chasing deer is a punishable offence.)

We walked home. Skye and Ness were sheepishly waiting for us on our return. That I thought was the end of the story, though why the deer screaming and why the pair’s exhaustion was still a puzzle. I put Willow into the back of the truck to let her reflect on her behaviour and turned to go into the house. Just as the screaming started up all over again. Putting the dogs into their house (I didn’t want the added complications of  irrepressible dogs now I had an idea of the situation) I set off once more in the direction of Dung Field…‘It must’ I thought ‘be the mother of the twins. And she must’ I decided ‘be hung up in a fence.’

As I walked I watched the ravens – if there was chance of a good supper so near their nesting site they would be defending it and true enough they were active and keen – seeing off a buzzard…but then they’re active at this time of year anyhow,  mating, nesting. I walked on; the screams were moving up and down, loud and faint, which was beginning to put paid to my deer-hung-in-fence theory.  As I approached the gate to Dung Field a large dog fox was trotting towards me oblivious for a minute or so to my presence…he darted into Raven’s Copse as soon as he clocked ‘human’.

Crossing the boundary into the next farm I saw Robert climbing over the fence

“I heard the screaming. I thought you must have been trying to release a deer.” He panted “I’ve just run my guts out!”

“No. Unfortunately I can’t find anything. Nothing. Nothing at all. I really have no idea what’s going on.” So I recounted the story and finishing off with the fox, the ravens’ activity and the sheep huddled together in a corner of the field. “I’m completely at a loss.” I said shaking my head.

We continued scouring the fields a bit longer before returning home, when once again another haunting scream floated over the darkening countryside.

What had occurred? There must have been three deer at least. A doe and her yearling twins perhaps? Why the distress screams, the exhaustion, the panic?

Have you any ideas?

I promise we'll never ever ever do that again....

Locks Park Farm

Thanks for visiting my blog. All entries are presented in chronological order.

I have a small organic farm on the Culm grasslands near Hatherleigh in Devon, with sheep and beef cattle. I've been farming in the county for more than 30 years. I've set up this blog to share views on farming and the countryside - please do give your thoughts.

Archives

CPRE


CPRE Logo
The Campaign to Protect Rural England has helped set up this blog. We want farming to thrive in England, and believe that it is essential that people understand farming and farmers better in order for that to happen. Paula's views expressed here are her own and we won't necessarily share all of them, but we're happy to have helped give her a voice.

Find our more about CPRE and our views on food and farming at our website, www.cpre.org.uk

follow me on twitter