Low Airie, Glenkens – 7/6/20
The cattle have been out for a month, and it feels like they have grasped the meaning of their work. It’s fine to hear them ripping at the new grass, gently reshaping the hill with a thousand gobful tears. The ecological benefits of having them out are increasingly plain to see, but this project attempts to find a balance between agriculture and conservation, and it’s important to keep an even eye on both ends of the puzzle.
I have nine beasts on the hill, and seven are doing just fine. They’re broad-backed and heavy, and the heather has combed them into show-ground perfection. The other two are bugging me because they seem to be misfiring. They are the last two calves born in the first week of July 2019. They were late and small and never quite caught up with the cohort. It’s almost embarrassing to see how light they are against the others, and while I’m confident they will make up ground as the summer rolls on, it’s interesting that their bellies are often half-empty when the others are full, and they tread lightly around the group, often hanging about the fringes. It’s marginal stuff and perhaps I am tuned to focus on small details, but it’s a puzzle to wonder why they have been slow to bloom in a world of free and easy grass.
I have no interest in showing cattle, but I can easily spot my best. If I was minded to do a little fussing and brushing, I could do fine on the show circuit – certainly not stellar, but steady. However, it set me thinking how every herd will have a mix of good and less good, and the show season permits the cream to float. And wouldn’t it be fun if the best animal from every herd also had to be shown alongside the worst? Imagine the shame of it, but at least it would be a better representation of the work that goes into breeding cattle. Picture the show-lines at Ingliston, with every rosette-wearing champion forced to stand alongside something a little dull and goonish, with torn ears and a funny gait. Knowing that no breeder is perfect, it would be easier to make your peace with the occasional “also-ran”.