Animal stories, Farm Accommodation, farm bunkhouse, Timber building, Uncategorized, wildlife

Surfing the air

The void between the buildings is spanned by an oaken bridge.
The bunkhouse sits below the roundhouse so that the bridge leaves the roundhouse deck to strike the first floor at the other end,
10 foot off the ground,
and level with the bunkhouse eaves where the swallows dart.
I make the crossing to my office at the westen end of the bunkhouse
The prevailing westerlies hit the gable end of the office to curl round the mouth of the bridge and down its length.
Swallows make their homes here, housemartens adopt the round walls of my home.
This natural specificity is dictated by the respective build systems; mud and grass for materials –
but while swallows prop their nests on a ledge – maybe a downpipe elbow-
martens bracket their nests to a vertical.
They need purchase – choosing the dry head of my rough lime rendered wall.

Today I walkexterior2 out onto the bridge and across to the wide platform
overlooking the bright growth of upper Strathspey.
A swallow brushes past my shoulder using the air as I use the timber deck.
The wind is strong enough for the birds to hold themselves up,
feathers fluttering, with a litany of chirrups and washboard clicks.
There must be a couple of dozen surrounding me,
within inches of my head,
like butterflies
or blessings.

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Chooks, Highland cattle, Timber building, Uvie Farm

Lifting at the limit

The thicknesser has been sitting in the middle of the workshop for 20 years – solid, scuffed, dirty green , immobile,- the dependable heart of my joinery – now it’s time to shift it. I reckon it weighs 3/4 ton: the forklift I’ve hired has a capacity of 750kgs – funny that. When I lift it, the rear wheels rise from the floor – it steers with the rear wheels: I’m fine so long as I travel in straight lines- not much good in the tight spaces of the workshop. I persevere though and drop it on the trailer- finally -after scrapes, wobbles and slides – but we’re struggling to get any further with the truck wheels spinning in deep slush. I woke early to that uncanny quiet that comes with a blanket of snow – 5 inches in this case, built up without wind so small branches and even the handrail of the bridge balance a perfect cake slice of snow. Away to Inverness for cattle feed and back for lunch, feeling guilty about being unproductive I head down to the workshop to continue clearing it. Darkness is falling but with Jake’s help , and with the machine trembling on the forks – I decide to go for it. Gunning the engine, spinning the tyres and nudging with the forklift, we nurse the loaded trailer up the hill to the black tarmac and back to the farm. That was a task hard achieved but there’s other successes to relish. One of the new Maran hens has been reluctant to follow her companions to be shut into the chicken house, perching on the bars above the hay rack. Tonight finds her sitting in the roof with the older chooks looking fat and  smug at a new task mastered. And there’s Alice down in the Aspens with Angus Halfhorn: flighty, fearful Alice, who turns from the hay, extends her neck towards my face and noses me with her breath. She doesn’t even shake her horns afterwards the way the others often do as if to warn me not to take further liberties. New behaviour learned, and a gesture of trust. Success comes in many forms.

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Highland cattle, Timber building, Uncategorized, Uvie Farm

Do we really prefer the rain?

Doom and gloom, wind and rain, forecast for the weekend – and we’re on the roof! The day starts quiet enough – though there’s a bank of heavy cloud skirting the north of the farm, and the wind is southerly so I leave without my raingear. Long banks of cloud are driving purposefully across the sky- marauding squadrons trimmed with occasional patches of crimson. The three old girls by the shed need feeding with care: Flora and Moira first and then I can ensure that Morag gets the bucket laced with cod-liver oil for her rheumatics. By the time I’ve finished with the calves, Flora has her head down in Moira’s bucket, Moira in Morag’s and Morag in Flora’s.
Ach well -the best laid schemes of mice and men gang aft a-gley.
Down to the Pottery to await the roofer. Andrew appears at lunchtime and in spite of persistant rain sets to cheerfully. The worst of the gale is shielded by the monument crag rising from the roadside to the south but it is still blowing hard and driving damp through our clothing. Andrew is a sailor, and at times is spreadeagled along the ridge like an old time mariner reefing topsails. It is a race against dark but we keep working through the rain and by dark the ridge is watertight. I am standing on the roofing ladder supplying Andrew with tools and lead. From this vantage I watch the strath – car headlights lighting up the murk as though inside a cave, the monument to a forgotten laird presiding yet from the crag above, the lower wooded slopes of Creag Dubh leading up to vanish in cloud and the ridges fading into the distance as they lead downriver towards Cairngorm.
‘It’s a great landscape whatever the weather, eh Andrew?’
and he, game as ever-
‘Wouldn’t have it any different.’
Returning in the dark I light the sheds. Holly and Alice have invaded the half concreted for my new workshop – leaving signatures in dung on the pristine floor. The other shed is empty – the three old cows have ignored the chance of shelter preferring to lie out in the rain.
Sometimes I think Highlanders make it hard on themselves.

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Farm Life, Highland cattle, Timber building

Fitting doors in the day

There are times to leave the animals to themselves. The temperature has risen unexpectedly, damp lifting from the saturated ground to clog the hillsides. The light is even, without shadow or contrast, changing little before dark.
First the animals, lying quiet or standing to gain the benefit of a slight breeze. Holly in the Aspen paddock waits: I brush her matted coat, lifting it to ease drying. The mounded silage in the centre of the feeder needs pulled to the sides to avoid waste before refilling. That is for tomorrow – now I have doors to fit.
The hammerhead extension at the pottery is constructed as a traditional post and beam timber frame. The structure is douglas fir, clad with larch – all harvested from Scottish forests. I split the offcuts to make doors for the old agricultural steading that used to house animals and a family in the same low rooved complex of buildings. Two of these need fitted today.
The uprights (stiles) are overlength to protect the doors from damage: these horns are cut first, the stiles planed to fit the uneven old frames. Wedged in place with an even joint all round, hinge slots can be routered and the hardware fitted. Screwed to the frame upright (jamb) the door must be set to close tight to the woodwork. The closing edge is drilled and chiselled square to take the lock; holes drilled  from both faces for spindle and cylinder. The keep is then set into the receiving jamb with the precise offset that allows the door to close crisply with no shoogling.
I am racing against the darkness to fit two. The first clicks home with the neatest heft. I progress with the second, lose my rhythm: the keep is set too far from the frame upstand, the door rattles and needs adjusted as I struggle with the failing light.

It is dark as I walk the Nog to the yard to close the chicken house. The crescent moon  behind the branches is enlarged and diffuse,veiled in mist. Tomorrow, God willing, we will walk the hills in daylight- freedom balances obligation.

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Farm Life, Highland cattle, Timber building

its not just plumbing fails in winter

Hard frost covers grass, vehicles, animals -& nothing works all day, or functions grudgingly without rhythm or grace.The digger doesn’t start when I need to cart silage to Billy the girls, and once successful (after a trip to Newtonmore for additional fuel), Billy attacks the bale using his horns to send gouts of fodder over his back onto the dirt. I talk to him sternly – and replace armfuls that would otherwise be wasted. The valve in Angie Halfhorn’s water trough has rotated sideways and is frozen anyway, but the animals are good, well adapted to this weather.

Lenny is failing. He has come to fix the disfunctional heating system in the timber framed extension to the coffee shop. His voice is a coarse whisper – as it has been for a month now, Standing before the water cylinder he explains to me meticulously how the pellet stove sends water at a pre set temperature into the cylinder which demands the heat until it has reached temperature of another setting at which point it releases it to the central heating – but not, stresses Lennie in such away as to rob the tap water that circulates inside a coil inside the tank that is then balanced with cold  before sent to the taps. Additionally, Lennie points out, the solar heating, (when there is any on days less pallid) shunts warmth to the system from another coil at the base. As he croaks these intricacies of procuring warmth, Lennie is poking a roll-up through his whiskers, threatening conflagration. The hospital has requested his attendance, but for now he takes time to tell me how things work.

Back at the farm I replace the lagging insulating my own water system, pre-empting malfunction though not conclusively: winter is a continual skirmishing against greater forces. I can only choose my ground.

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Timber building, Uncategorized

A green coat is not a white coat

I wore my green coat today. My green coat is not my white coat. My white coat is kept pristine for the showring. My green coat belongs in the pen- where preparations are made: the butlers apron for polishing the silver not his frockcoat for dinner service. Today is the first day of use for my building at the pottery coffee shop. It is traditional post and beam, built on the farm from large baulks of douglas fir and brought along the road in pieces to be assembled and erected. As my worksite for more than a year it hasn’t dictated how I am seen here any more than  the cattle would object if my hat was back to front so I often attend as part of the farmyard. Today this changed: the lights are on, the coffee machine spits steam, the steel tables are cleaned and loaded – and I wear my green coat.

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