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(Troy Media) The drover was due at the gate right around the time I had to head out to pick up our homestay student. I was walking to the car when I noticed the Farmer circling on his ATV, trying frantically to get the cattle out of the pasture and into the barn.
Sighing, I pulled on my barn shoes and rushed out to help.
I stuffed a couple of apples in my pocket before leaving the house. Once outside, I noticed Mocha had spotted the gate left open for the drover. She was skipping across the tractor ruts in an attempt to escape without notice through that portal to freedom. A fragrant apple tree stands on the other side – her favourite.
I managed to get past her just as the ATV rounded the corner. The next trick would be to get her back inside the farm gate without letting anyone else out. The rest of the herd had caught on to her plan and were milling about the fence, mooing encouragement and protest. Then I remembered the apples in my pocket: a sure way to get Mocha to follow you to the ends of the earth.
Next, we had to get the bull in the barn. It was his turn to head onward to his next posting. He would be taken to market to be bought by another farmer. He would soon be king of another herd.
The Farmer tried in vain to push the entire herd through the narrow cattle chute. That wasn’t happening. Eventually he gave up and pushed them through the fence at the side of the barn, hoping they would notice the fresh hay bale he had placed inside the barn. They did. Problem solved.
Next, he hopped off the ATV and onto the tractor to lift a heavy iron gate into the opening. We no longer have a sliding barn door there, as the bull used it for a head-butting toy last year.
I ran back to the house, jumped in the car and set off to pick up our girl. When I returned, the drover truck was just leaving.
It was an Irish goodbye. The cattle stood and stared at the truck as it rattled across the tractor ruts, down the lane and out of their lives. Then one by one, the cows headed back out to pasture.
I wonder what they are thinking? Their bull is gone. Their calves are gone.
You can tell me they’re simple animals and they aren’t thinking anything, but I know better. I’ve seen cows expressing frustration, sorrow, contentment and delight. You can’t tell me they don’t feel something when big changes happen in their limited lives. We try to make them as happy and comfortable as possible while they’re here. That’s our role.
Soon another truck will arrive. The cattle will gather at the gate when they hear it rounding the corner. They know the rattle of a cattle truck means either the arrival or the exit of another animal. Soon it will be their turn to go off to their new farm. We trust their new farmer will treat them with respect and consideration, too.
And to whoever buys our bull at market, please take note. He may be built like a small snowplow but he has a very gentle spirit.
When the drover arrived to collect him, he did just as he had when we first bought him. He followed the gentle hand bearing sweetfeed and hopped up into the back of the truck with very little convincing. He will eat apples out of your hand, with a bite more gentle than a pup’s.
Of course, we always kept a farm implement or fence between us and the bull, out of respect for his basic instincts to butt with his head. We also gave him plenty of room during mating or calving season, as he took his job very seriously.
He is a good bull. We called him Dono, as printed on his ear tag, because he came from the Donoghue farm.
Please leave him some heavy objects that he’s allowed to push around the barnyard; he loves that. A fallen tree trunk or rusted out old plow will do. If you treat him well, he will serve you well.
As for us, we’ll wait to see what happens next on the farm, without animals.
Troy Media columnist Diana Fisher is a freelance writer living on a 200-acre farm along the Kemptville Creek in Oxford Mills, Ont.
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