October 18, 2008

Fitting milking machines – Lance’s great idea

Farming in the North Pennine Dales
By Eric Wilson

One of the disadvantages of fitting milking machines in that part of the world was the fact that many of them were installed while the cows were inside for the winter. This meant we were working among the cows, as well as what they deposited on the floor.

Most of the cows were more or less used to someone working around them but the breeding bull or bulls that were also tied up in one of the byres were a different story. Like bulls anywhere, they were unpredictable and certainly didn’t take well to strangers, especially when they made unusual noises and carried long lengths of pipe. It was prudent to check that they were securely chained or better still, get the farmer to move it out of that particular byre until we were finished.

I always remember being told the two things you should never trust are bulls and Alsation dogs! Whoever said that had apparently forgotten about car dealers and insurance agents, but there was a lot of truth in the statement as far as bulls were concerned.

The next job we went to looked promising, a nice big double–sided byre with brick walls which didn’t fall down when you made a hole through them. The only resident was a big Shorthorn bull, which was chained up in the end stall. On checking it seemed to be secure so we unloaded the van and prepared to start.

We usually did a survey of the site and discussed the how’s and where’s of the job before getting started. All seemed fairly straightforward. There was nobody about but we had a sketch plan of the proposed layout so we made a start. As soon as the noises associated with cutting and threading pipes and knocking holes through walls started, the old bull started to bellow – intermittently at first, but gradually developing into a continuous cacophony of sound, starting with a loud bellow and ending up in a shriek. This sequence was repeated over and over again.

The building acted like an echo chamber, the noise reverberating util it was impossible to hear ourselves think never mind speak. My assistant in this job was Lance who tried his best to counter the bull’s noise by yelling back at it with expressions like – “shut your cake ‘ole” and some not so polite.

Then Lance had a bright idea. The opposite stall had three or four bales of hay stacked in it, so he hopefully presented the bull with a slab of not very good hay. The result was instance silence. It reminded me of that piece of advice you might see in a woman’s magazine to a wife with a bad tempered husband – “feed the brute”!

Unfortunately it didn’t last. The bull scoffed the hay and was quiet for a while, then gradually built up the crescendo once again. Lance kept repeating the cure until we wondered if the bull could consume any more hay and still keep breathing. But it was still on its feet when we left for home.

We didn’t look forward to another day of the same, so the next day we were determined to find someone to move the beast somewhere else. As we approached the byre the cows were just being turned out after milking, and when we got inside we found the bull had gone as well. The cowman was there “mucking out” so we passed the time of day with him, but dare not ask about the male of the species.

We presumed that if he had expired through over eating, then he might broach the subject but he never did. It was a great relief to be the only ones making a noise to finish the job.

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