The great thing about organising your life around the farming calendar is that you're given plenty of time to cultivate a creeping sense of dread: Lambing's in September! OMG! Only five months to go! Or: It's April and nothing's growing in the garden except misshapen Brussels sprouts and spindly leeks! We'll be dead by October! So when we learned last year that all cattle have to be tested annually for tuberculosis, we had a good twelve months to work ourselves into a real lather at the prospect.
As testing time drew nearer, a farmer friend warned us that the local TB testing guy didn't like "lifestylers" because they "don't have a clue".
Forewarned is forearmed, as they say. We were determined to win the TB testing guy's respect. After all, we had yards! Our cattle would be docile and sweet. The job would be completed in under ten minutes. The tester would rub his grizzled head, cock an eyebrow and grunt his appreciation. We'd smile humbly and shake his hand.
The day before the test, we had a practice session. It was a complete success -- took a mere hour and a half to get all six beasts into the yard and through the crush -- and they only charged through the temporary electric fencing once. No worries!***
When the TB testing guy arrived, he announced, "I bloody hate Highland cattle." Things kind of went downhill from there. Our animals, wary of the stranger, were anything but docile. They point-blank refused to enter the yards. Farmer Wan and I chased them around the paddock, flailing our arms helplessly. When we did finally get them yarded, Hamish the bull was stroppy and Bonnie, our huge alpha-female, bullied the others away from the crush. Then our young heifer burst through the head bail and ran off. At least the rest were tested.
"I'll be back in three days," said the TB testing guy. "Try to have the bull in the crush and the rest yarded by the time I arrive."
Hamish = good. The rest = steak soon if they don't watch it.
We knew we'd be okay the second time because we had reinforcements in the shape of my brother, Ciaran. Forty-five minutes before the tester was due, the three of us went out into the paddock, brandishing our polypipe waddys. We meant business.
Hamish was feeling cooperative. We got him into the crush with very little trouble. Yay! This was going to be a doddle!
Three-quarters of an hour later, the TB testing guy watched from his car as we tried -- and failed -- for the fourth time to get the other cattle into the yard. He ambled up the track towards us, just as they burst through the temporary electric fencing yet again and charged off into the back paddock through a gate that had somehow been left open. Farmer Wan threw down his waddy and swore loudly.
The TB testing guy rolled his eyes and something in me snapped. I was going to get those damned animals yarded, even if it took the rest of the afternoon. While Ciaran kept the tester distracted with casual conversation, I chased them up the hill to the track, waving my waddy and yelling at the top of my lungs. They started trotting in the right direction, more from exhaustion than my efforts, I think.
Just as they were about to break out and charge back down the hill, Farmer Wan appeared and drove them from the other side. Ten minutes later, it was all over. Done. Dusted. Finis. I couldn't believe it.
"If I were you, I'd knock the big cow on the head. That dippy heifer too," said the TB testing guy as we walked him back to his car. "You're lucky I don't charge by the hour."
He half-smiled, though, and I thought I saw the teeniest glimmer of something in his eyes. Not respect, but some kind of acknowledgment.
So now we have a whole year in which to dread the next round of TB testing. If we do nothing else in those 12 months, it's clear we'll have to get our cattle more used to being yarded. We'll have to round 'em up and keep them doggies rollin', regularly. And that, my friends, is why it's perfectly obvious that I need a stock whip ... desperately need a stock whip. My need is dire -- it's not just about the cool sound they make and the fact that I've always wanted one ever since I saw the Indiana Jones movies.
I'm sure the TB testing guy would back me up 100% on this.
Posted by Farmer Nik
*** For the benefit of friends and family who know even less about farming than we do, that result was woeful.
About Ewan and Niki
Scottish mechanical engineer with a deep and abiding passion for good food. Outstanding cook. Builder of lots of stuff. Cattle whisperer. Connoisseur of beer. A lover rather than a fighter.
Kiwi writer and broadcaster who hates cabbage, even though she knows it's good for her. Chook wrangler. Grower of food and flowers. Maker of fine preserves. Lover of dancing and wine. Definitely a fighter.