Silage Times

The cows have had the hay, and now it’s time for black-wrapped silage and the curse of heavy machinery.

I mistake the seasons. When the bales are stacked in July, I stand in the sunlit field and conjure up an image of the winter. I imagine myself walking easily in the snow with a bale on my back like a Farquharson painting, passing out flakes to the neatly begging beasts. It’ll all be crisp and clear I say, and I look forward to that cold when the sweat of a year’s haymaking hangs in a drip from my nose. 

But in reality, the bales get burst and they blow away in the mirk. Cattle stamp and bugger about. The bull is so tame that he shoves me to one side like a dog and together they chew the twine and trample me. I’m deafened with their bellowing and the quad bike stutters in the rain which shines in the hoof-print pools as if the world was a mirror and there was only four inches of mud resting upon it.

The same knife cuts two ways. Standing as I do now in the first week of January, my memory of summer is misled. I’m certain that it will be dry and comfortable for six entire months. I never give a second’s thought to wet grass and pollen. I forget that midges exist.

So I’m into silage bales and the mud boils under my tractor wheels. I never had the vet to come and run pregnancy tests, but I know that everything’s in calf except that red cow who turned up empty last year; the one that went to the hill with the steers for the summer. I’m sorry that she’s still cycling and being jumped by the bull after three rounds, and I can’t imagine what’s wrong. I’d send her for the abattoir, but I won’t because she’s beautiful and she sets the tone. If I rattle a bag, she’s first to come in and she brings the others behind her. If there’s a shock or a mad-eyed steer, she settles them down. She makes my life easier, and she doesn’t take so much that I can’t afford to carry her. 

Up in the glen, my neighbour said that cast cows are making such money that if something’s empty, cut its throat and buy a heifer with the cash. “Cut its throat”; he said that a few times in the same conversation, and I think he’s said it elsewhere so often that the words had lost their edge for him. But they rattled me, and trying them on for size, I took those words to my own cows. I steamed in the rain and from under my hood I tried to say “I’ll cut your throat” to the red cow, but my hand stopped my mouth. I’ve killed my share of cows and sent many more to be killed on my behalf in the pens at Lockerbie. There’s no reason for me to be squeamish about killing, and part of it must be selecting the right words. And lines like these are some of many reasons why I’ve disqualified myself as a real contender.

The other beasts are working well. They’re all suckling calves and growing another fresh crop at the same time. And hazel catkins are beginning to turn yellow. The mavis will begin to sing by the end of the month, and although we stand on the edge of progress, the worst is yet to come; the worst in the pounding thump of tractor hydraulics and the smell of silage in your cuffs when you’re eating your piece or cleaning your teeth.

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