It must have been back in the 1970s, I could doubtless work it out more exactly by checking through the calving records but we’re not to a year here. My Dad and I were in Ulverston Auction for something, and I can no longer remember why. It wasn’t often we both went. Now Ulverston Auction was one of those places where you could find all sorts of livestock for sale.
Anyway, as we walked up the shippon looking at dairy cows (which we had no intention of buying), we came to a Welsh Black bull who was tied up next to them. To be honest we had no interest in buying him either. We had used AI for a decade or more and whilst AI men might have had a habit of drifting cars sideways as they came into the yard, that was pretty much the limit to the dangers they posed.
To be fair their driving could be spectacular. I was once chatting to the mechanic who serviced their cars in the garage at Milnthorpe. One AI man had come in with his car, complaining of a problem.
“There’s this nasty screaming from the left hand side when I corner at much over sixty.”
The mechanic had nodded sagely, “That will be your passenger.”
But anyway, Dad and I looked at this young bull, and he was a nice bull. Showing potential, he’d obviously grow into something decent.
So we went on to do whatever we were there to do (racking my memory it might have been to see the accountant) and forgot all about him.
About an hour later we walked through the dairy ring just as they were trying to sell him. He’d got to £150 and stuck. Now I won’t say ‘he was for nowt’ but it was getting awfully close. So Dad and I leaned on the metal rails that formed the ring and watched. Dad commented that it was awfully cheap. I probably said something about, ‘he’d be worth more in the fat ring.’
Anyway I put in a bid, and whoever was bidding put in another bid. And thus and so, I ended up buying him for £208. Which to be fair was still awfully cheap.
Anyway merely buying the bull is really the start of the whole ‘bull’ experience rather than an end of it. We loaded him into the cattle trailer and took him home. We didn’t have a bull pen so we tied him up in a shippon. He seemed happy enough with this and we went in and explained to my mother what had happened.
Anyway, that winter when we had a heifer who had ‘come abulling’ or a dairy cow who AI couldn’t catch, we just used to let him out into the collecting yard and he’d serve them, I’d put the halter back on him and take him back to the shippon and tie him up again.
Come spring the plan was to turn him out to grass with a batch of heifers. So after we’d turned the heifers out, Dad went to check with a neighbour he wasn’t going to put his heifers out in the field next door, because whilst love may laugh at locksmiths, bulls giggle quietly at hedges and dairy heifers, mad abulling, cheerfully take barbed wire entanglements in their stride.
Dad landed back, the neighbour had no plans to put heifers there, so we’d take the bull up in a couple of days. Except by then heifers appeared in the neighbour’s field.
So muttering a bit, when a heifer of ours came abulling we’d load the bull into the cattle trailer, take him up to the field and let him out. Then I’d put the halter on him and walk him back into the trailer and take him home. It did strike me at times we were falling over backwards to be neighbourly, but still.
Now remember that I was handling this bull on a halter, leading him in and out of trailers etc. Whilst he did have a ring through his nose we never used it because he didn’t need it.
Anyway one day we took him up to the field, and whilst he was working, Dad and I would go and check the grass on a mowing field next door. We walked back to the heifers, and there was no bull. So what had the daft young beggar gone and done. Was there a heifer abulling next door?
We looked round, couldn’t see anything untoward happening. Then I looked in the trailer. He was quietly standing there, patiently waiting to go home.
Anyway we used him that summer and all next winter. The problem was that he was growing faster than I was. He probably topped the scales at well over half a ton and there was this realisation that just because I was holding the end of the rope didn’t necessarily mean I was the one in charge. So we decided that it was time he went on to pastures new.
So we took him back to Ulverston Auction. There he was purchased for £350 by a chap who had a biggish suckler herd which grazed the local bird sanctuary. I’ve been round the sanctuary, pick your time and you’ve everything from breeding grey seals to nesting gulls. But when gulls are nesting you carry an umbrella and wear a waterproof. Even the suckler cows can be seen to flinch as an irate gull flashes past their head.
There again, live long enough, it’s amazing what you see
More tales from a lifetime’s experience of peasant agriculture in the North of England, with sheep, Border Collies, cattle, and many other interesting individuals. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is just one of those things.
As a reviewer commented, ” always enjoy Jim’s farming stories, as he has a way of telling a tale that is entertaining but informative at the same time. I’ve learned a lot about sheep while reading this book, and always wondered how on earth a sheepdog learns to do what it does – but I know now that a new dog will learn from an old one. There were a few chuckles too, particularly at how Jim dealt with unwanted salespeople. There were a couple of shocks regarding how the price of cattle has decreased over the years, and also sadly how the number of UK dairy farms has dropped from 196,000 in 1950 to about 10,000 now.
Jim has spent his whole life farming and has acquired a wealth of knowledge, some of which he shares in this delightful book.”