This morning Frank had to get all of his fifty bullocks to the barnyard for their TB shots. Most of the calves were in sheds or barns nearby, but the largest ones were in the top fields and needed to be brought down to the vet who had set up operations in the barnyard.
I went up with Frank and Carol in the Land Rover to get them, with Carol shutting all the gates on the way up so they wouldn’t escape from the lane. There’s no dog on the farm now; if we still had Jill, the border collie, who was my grandfather’s cow- and sheepdog, the job would have been much easier.
Frank brought up a bag containing calf feed; when he delivers the feed twice a day to his bullocks in the fields, they follow him in the field, sometimes almost knocking him over in their haste for their twice-daily treat. He’s hoping that when the bullocks see him and the bag, they’ll be tricked into following him out the gate and down the lane.
I stood near an opening that we don’t want the bullocks getting through, and Carol got behind them, with Frank in front of them in the Land Rover. They followed him out and along the lane, and Carol drove them forward. Just a little way along the lane some of the bullocks start climbing the verge next to a field, and were almost in it when Carol started shouting wildly and chasing them. Wisely, they decide to get back on the lane.
On most cattle drives I’ve been on, once the cattle are on the lane, you just nudge them forward, occasionally tapping them with sticks if they hesitate. But they can get difficult to herd, or totally out of control, especially if there are cows nearby that are in heat (or if it’s cows you’re driving and there’s a bull in a nearby field) in which case they may try to scale the walls to get to the object of their desire.
Carol wanted them at a run; they’ll get up to less mischief that way, have less time to think about why they’re being taken out of their field and make plans to escape. Several years ago a bullock owned by a local farm escaped from a field, ran down the woods to the Cromford canal at the bottom of the valley, and dashed several miles along the canal. The farmer’s daughter ran the opposite direction to warn oncoming trains that a bullock was on the track. The farmer tried to grab at it, the bullock fell into the canal, somehow knocking the farmer in, too, while astonished onlookers watched. Finally the farmer’s son was able to capture the bullock and get it into a trailer. The bullock was declared “mental” (crazy) by the farmer and soon taken off to market where it could do no more harm.
With the bullocks now at a gallop, Carol took off at a dead run behind them. I’m not a runner since I broke a bone in my foot twenty years ago, so I got out of her way. Soon, she and the bullocks were tiny figures in the distance.
When I next saw them, the bullocks were down in the barnyard. You’ll notice in the above photograph that everyone dealing with the bullocks is carrying a stick to tap them into place, and perhaps also as a small amount of protection if they get out of control. It can get dangerous with older bullocks, especially if they have horns, as Frank’s do. Children, such as my daughter Meg and her cousin, at the right of the photo, are well advised to stay out of the way.
When my dad was a boy, his mother walked between a cow and her calf–surprisingly one of the most dangerous things that can happen on a farm that doesn’t involve farm machinery. The cow, believing that her calf was in danger, charged my grandmother, knocking her to the ground and attacking her. My grandmother, a very strong and stalwart woman, spent six weeks in bed recovering from her injuries. In general, it can be a dangerous business; every year there are farmers knocked down and killed by their own bulls or cows so it’s best to stay out of the way unless you really know what you’re doing.
For this reason, by law farmers are not allowed to pasture a bull or bulls in fields with footpaths; the danger of attack to people walking on the footpaths is too great. However, they are allowed to put bullocks–castrated bulls–in these fields which, if the bullocks are older and have horns, can be very frightening for some hikers. My cousin Julie told me a story about walking through a field on a nearby “estate” owned by an extremely wealthy builder/contractor several years ago, when she had absentmindedly wandered off the footpath. The owner’s son, apparently angered at her not being on the footpath, started yelling and waving his arms to get the bullocks to charge her. They did indeed charge, but because she’s a farmer’s daughter she stood her ground and shouted them off, no doubt to the surprise and anger of the owner’s son. This young man’s aggressive behavior towards Julie is, I might add, extremely atypical because most landowners, particularly farmers, know they must adhere to the public’s right to use footpaths across their land.
Frank finishes setting up the contraption for corralling the bullocks. They will file through one-by-one, then their necks will be secured and the vet will administer the two shots into their shoulders.
Then they will be released to rejoin the bullocks who have already been given their shots and are hanging about in the barnyard none the worse for wear.