One of the insults people hand out to builders is “He’s a cowboy.” But in my profession, cowboy is a job specification rather than an insult. Over the years I’ve worked with sheep, pigs, and a very long time ago, poultry. Indeed I’m probably one of the few people living who’s worked in a Second World War gas mask. I got the job of fumigating our old wooden hen house. Not long before, digging around in the attic, I found two old gas masks. So when fumigating, I wore one of them. Admittedly it was a full adult one and I’m not sure I was even in my teens at the time, it was probably heavier and more cumbersome than intended, but still it was useable.
But back to the point, as well as sheep, pigs and poultry, I’ve worked with cattle. Indeed some of my earliest memories are working with cattle. In the course of an awful lot of years I’ve been attacked by bulls, trodden on by cows and generally messed about by generations of young stock. But in spite of this, I am by nature a cowman.
Indeed when somebody presents me some mechanism they hope I might be able to fix, I’ve been known to glance at it, mutter, “I’m a cowman not a tractor driver, and direct them to somebody else who might hope to understand this stuff.
But anyway there are cows about again.
Comparing them with sheep, there isn’t really a lot of comparison. Sheep struggle to cope with the concept of being an individual. Place them in a situation when they cannot just copy what everybody else is doing they tend to panic. Dairy cows on the other hand seem to revel in it. Give them half a chance and they will even go to the extent of developing eccentricities.
Years ago when I was milking, cows used to come into the abreast parlour and because we’d all being doing this for so long, I never bothered with the chains that hook behind them to stop them stepping back. I was at one end of the parlour dealing with one cow and I noticed a cow at the far end step back. She’d probably eaten up the feed placed in front of her and was idly wandering round to see if there was any more lying about unattended. I was putting the milking machine on another cow so couldn’t actually do anything about her, and didn’t want to shout and upset the others. So I just caught her eye and coughed meaningfully. Something like, “Ahem.” Without any fuss she went back to where she should be and waited for me to let her out.
Just to show you the difference between working with cattle and sheep, when I feed sheep in troughs, they will approach, keeping a wary eye on Sal, and suddenly mob the trough. Provided I keep moving they’ll part in front of me and surge back to the trough after I’ve passed. Occasionally one of them will get caught underfoot, panic as the metaphorical spotlight falls on it and it’ll dash back to hide in among the others.
With dairy cows I’ll appear with a bag of cake. Sal, should she be present, is treated with good humoured amusement. “Oh look, how cute, a dog.” As I approach the trough cows will spot this and will move to the trough, and if I’m unlucky, there’ll be a solid wall of them waiting for me. Somehow I then have to move along the trough, pouring the feed in, and at the same time try to push my way through. Given they weigh an average of at least 600kg each and aren’t particularly worried about my presence; it’s a process which involves considerable tact.
Strangely enough walking backwards pouring the cake into the trough and just bumping into them seems to work far better than trying to walk forward.
Oh any you may have noticed that when I mentioned animals I’d worked with, (Cattle, sheep, pigs, poultry), I didn’t mention dogs. When I go to meetings and people moan about their co-workers I merely comment that my co-worker is a bitch. It has got some strange looks in these political correct times but it does have the advantage of being true. Dogs are colleagues.
Oh, and you might or might not have noticed. I’ve got another book out.
Instead of his usual collection of anecdotes, this time Tallis presents us with a gripping adventure. Why is Tallis ‘run out of town’ by hired ruffians? Why does a very sensible young woman want his company when plunging into unknown danger? Who or what was buried in the catacombs? And why has there been so much interest in making sure they stay dead? Also featuring flower arranging, life on the river, and a mule of notable erudition.
It’s £0.99, go on, treat yourself