Autumn Feeding

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The calves have done well this summer, but now they come to the autumn as underdogs. Their mothers are hungry and pregnant again, so the youngsters are hurled to one side when I arrive to feed them.

It’s grand to slit the summer bales and smell the grass which dried and set like flakes of paper in July. The keener cows come lurching in and pull the hay from my hands, so I make time to break bales into smaller parts and toss them out into heaps. Then the calves come creeping in and pinch at scraps wherever they can find them.

And all the while, the air is thick with fieldfares and redwings. Blackbirds have come across the sea to be with us at a moment of gathering. The beech trees are laden with mast-mad woodpigeons; the clumsy birds come tumbling away at the sound of the quad bike. If I stand among the cows they cannot see me – some pass so low around my head that I think I could catch one and grasp it yellow-eyed and stupid in my hand. But what to do with it then? Let it go as a lesson, knowing that pigeons never learn? Kill it as a meal for myself? They’re good eating, but I have newly-killed pork and lamb to fill my larder, and mallard too. A nut-filled pigeon would be welcome in December, but it would be wasted on me now. I tell myself that catching is pointless; that I am leaving the pigeons to be hunted by a goshawk. The obvious truth is that I am too short and slow to pick a bird out of the air – it’s just a game. Seven miles above the surface of the earth, a jet trails vapour like a streak of chalk. Perhaps I could catch that instead?

Standing up in this high field, I can see beyond the craigs to Gatehouse and Carsphairn. Grey hills roll high and cold into the morning. With the sea at my back, I smell the clean weight of hairy cattle all around me.


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