October 18, 2008

Meeting t' Baldersdale bull

Farming in the North Pennine Dales
By Eric Wilson

My next encounter with a bull was in Baldersdale, one of those smaller offshoot valleys that branched off Teesdale but didn’t go anywhere except to a few isolated farms. The farms were more a way of life than a means of making a fortune, most of the occupants having secondary work to improve the cash income, especially in winter.

The milking plant I went to install at one of the smaller holdings was for seven cows and was essentially to make milking easier night and morning, before and after the owner’s other work. He was gradually building up his stock numbers, and I was therefore quite surprised to find a bull tied up in the end stall of the small byre. I advised the farmer that it would need to be moved to enable me to do the job.

He assured me that “Billy” the bull was very quiet and controllable, and could be moved by just slipping a halter over his head and leading him to the stall at the other end of the byre. My idea was to pipe up one end, move the bull and finish off the other end. I noticed the bull did not even have the usual ring through his nose and the owner even gave me a demonstration to prove how quiet the bull was.

The reason for all this was that he had to go and fulfil his obligations at his secondary job and would be away until late afternoon. All went well and the time came to move the bull. I was by then encouraged by the fact of it being so docile while I had been working around it. I went through the motions of talking to the beast of course, and after putting on the halter, slipping the chain to lead it out.

Still feeling a little apprehensive, I was holding on near the end of the rope. The bull had to reverse a little to get turned round. I had just turned round to see where I was stepping when there was one almighty crash which seemed to rock the building on its foundations.

I must have leapt a yard in the air, instinctively letting go of the rope as my pulse rate went into overdrive and I scrabbled about trying to find my feet expecting the final charge I suppose. Suddenly it seemed very quiet, the dust had settled and to my surprise there was the bull down on the ground with it’s fore feet splayed out pointing east and west, head in the dung channel and completely incapable of going anywhere. It had clearly slipped as it had tried to turn and had taken a nosedive.

I suppose it can hardly be said that the bull had a forlorn expression on its face, but the whole scene at that moment certainly had a farcical look. I had no idea what to do to get it back on its feet, so went outside to try to regain my composure. After spells of deep breathing while trying to decide what to do next, I had visions of broken legs and having to get the vet in to shoot the bull. How could I get in touch with the owner and so on.

I had all sorts of questions with very few answers, and it started to look like an episode from “All creatures great and small”. I don’t know why we tend to think the worst when confronted with these situations. But I eventually ventured back into the cowshed and the bull was just standing there as it nothing had happened.

I tentatively picked up the end of the halter rope, led him to the stall and the other end of the byre, chained him up and that was that. I celebrated with half a cup of half-warm tea from my flask and finished the job.

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