Herd the one about the water buffalo in Orkney - Part 2
By Naomi Bremner, Mar 26 2014 11:00PM
In Part 1 I left off with us in Eday, and the proud owners of 15 in-calf buffalo cows. We also had bought a dozen Jacob sheep that year, so the headcount was mounting, though we arranged that the buffalo would stay down in Fife until we managed to secure some dedicated land for them.
So we set about trying to find some land in Orkney for our “starter pack”. First we scoured our island of Eday, but at just a little over 10 square miles, and a good deal of that taken up with peat banks, the mission was unfruitful. While this search went on we did make ready a byer on Eday that they could come home to for the winter, but that would have been a short-term solution only, and really we needed some fields. The quest continued and while we hoped it could have been triumphed in six months gradually it crept out of reach as winter loomed. Winter became spring, and we frantically battled to finalise the purchase of a farm on the mainland, which sadly fell at the last hurdle.
Then fortuitously we discovered that Schoolhouse in Deerness was new to the market, and might just suit. In the end Schoolhouse happened in the blink of an eye, and finally the buffalo abode was in sight, and thanks to the ever supportive and resilient Margaret Keenan at Royal Bank of Scotland in Kirkwall, we were able to finalise things, leave Eday and move in a month later, with just a wheelbarrow, a shovel and a five metre trailer gaping and groaning at the seams with our worldly possessions.
In the whirlwind move we had not had time to acquire furniture, so initially sat, slept, ate and played on a mattress on the floor. The kids thought this great fun for a while, but the novelty soon wore off.
All our efforts in those early weeks were put into organising the buffalo’s journey from Fife to Orkney and making sure the fields were ready for their arrival.
With BT taking a painfully long three weeks to connect the phone line and broadband, and no mobile signal at the house, all the organising was done at the far end of a field on a mobile phone, battling against the torrent of sometimes lashing rain thundering on the roof of the pick-up.
Our first fifteen cows, nine of which had already given birth during the extended wait to head north, arrived along with the calves and a young bull on the mv Helliar early in the hours of Saturday 3rd August – East Mainland Show day.
We collected them from the lairage at Hatston, drove them back to the intended field, opened the back door of the wagon and waited…and out they strolled, without any fuss, and with virtually no noise, for they were so light on their feet, they would hardly have stirred the troll under the bridge in the kid’s favourite billy goats gruff tale. They had a sniff, and a taste of grass, and then moved off to explore across their new turf, with an occasional ‘humfp’, which is the best I can do to describe their charming huff puff grunt.
The nine calves came galloping out behind, eager to catch up with the herd, and as we now observe frequently, the buffalos live as a collective horde far more so than typical beef or dairy cows, all looking out for each other’s calves. We watched expectantly in delight at their every move, while silently longing that they weren’t going to stretch their legs further than the field allowed, as we didn’t want our first neighbourly greetings in Deerness to be over free-roaming buffalo!
As it happened, the buffalo were more than content; they grazed and relished the burst drain at the far end of the field. Three or four times daily they strolled down to the water trough which is overlooked by our front door, so we got up close and personal, and one after the other they took turns in wallowing in the burst drain to apply a mud pack.
The next few weeks were a bit of a blur; we were blown away by the interest in our new herd, and took real delight in introducing people to them – for they had been upmost in our minds for such a long time, it was incredible to be able to share them with others.
To be continued...