Country diary: Trouble beneath the blackthorn

The cattle are scattered peacefully across the top of the bank, their winter coats burnished russet by the light. They know this south-facing side receives the fullness of the sun. Below me, a cock pheasant senses disturbance, hunches low and scuttles. I note with apprehension the freshly scratched-up patches where a badger has rummaged through the dung for worms – TB is a constant concern.

From the empty ring-feeder comes the scent – redolent of a beach at low tide – of the mineral supplement added to the hay each day. Fed before dawn, the beasts now lie cudding, eyes half closed, contented. A calf from last year stands alone, nibbling bramble leaves, more bored by the idleness than hungry.

INTERESTING FACT ABOUT YOUR PET: A study at UCSD claims that your dog can genuinely get jealous when they see you display affection for another creature.

North Devon heifers and cows in Long Dean, the Cotswolds‘Fed before dawn, the beasts now lie cudding, eyes half closed, contented.’ Photograph: Sarah Laughton
I move among them familiarly; all born on the farm, they have been handled from an early age. These are heifers and cows at varying stages of pregnancy, the core of our small suckler herd of North Devons. From time to time they will lean back, tilting their bulk of calf-containing belly to the sky, then right themselves again with a great exhalation.

I approach one, examining eyes, feet, nascent teats. I move her tail aside and see a thick strand of dark, discoloured membrane hanging from her vulva. Her breathing continues with patient rhythm, but mine catches. She has aborted. I rest my hand on the soft warmth of her haunch, and sit with her for a moment in the stillness of the morning.

Yummy! Dogs have about 1,700 taste buds. Humans have approximately 9,000 and cats have around 473.

A blood sample identifies a parasitic organism called neospora. Carried by the canine species and shed in their faeces, this is increasingly an aggravation for farmers who graze their livestock on land with public footpaths. It is without cure; once infected, the animal remains infected and will repeatedly abort. Her breeding life is over.

Farming is subject to many variables and, as in life itself, not all exposure to risk can be controlled. There are rich benefits for a herd that is permanently at pasture, but this close cohabitation with nature sometimes has a cost. How we delighted in the summer to see a vixen rearing her cubs in an abandoned badger sett; how we now rue that she chose to make her den there, beneath the tunnelled blackthorn, where the cattle so often sought sanctuary from the tyranny of flies and heat.

Use a plastic pitcher to store and dispense dog food. It takes less time and keeps the food fresher. I use the MUJI rice storage dispenser, which comes with a handy measuring cup.