Of Yows and Cows and People in White Coats

Berta, the flatulent
This new way of life out here in the sticks is terrific! The grass is green, the air is clean and most of the animals are charming. Mind you,  I don't think the locals know much about farming.  Imagine: yesterday Conrad, the  great big farmer who owns the fields around here, gave me a silly argument  just because I had removed some dangerous looking spikes from one of his fences.  It had taken me the whole day - and he came and yanked the pliers from my aching hands and yelled:

"What use is barbed wire without the barbs?"

I explained patiently just how dangerous these sharp and rusty spikes could be and that they could hurt his cows when they  climbed  the fences,  but he just called me a raving lunatic and stomped away.  I was so astonished, I forgot to ask for my pliers back! 

As I listened to  him disappear around the mountain, I decided that  I would definitely try to improve the lives of man and/or beast around here, whether they liked it or not.

The first day

Our house stands in the middle of a yow and cow infested landscape - the perfect place for some advanced agricultural experimentation. I read somewhere that milch cows produce more milk when they are exposed to classical music. Apparently one Mozart violin concerto can do the work of several bales of hay - and Beethoven's contribution to modern agriculture has yet to be quantified.

I decided that I could do even better. Our balcony overlooks a very large field, with the Roe Valley  beyond the cliffs. Just then the field was populated by dozens of pregnant ewes.

"If classical music really improves milk production" I decided, "Conrad will soon have the fattest lambs in the valley."

That very day I installed my giant 5000 Watt hifi speakers on the balcony - aiming them in the direction of the unsuspecting animals. "If Mozart is good, Bruckner is  better" I reasoned, and selected Anton's eighth symphony - original version -  to be played at full volume - six times.

The overall sound effect was terrific and surpassed my most optimistic expectations. A powerful echo bounced off the mountain and when these reverberating sound waves combined with the crescendos blasting from our balcony, the resultant  acoustic avalanche engulfed the field like the trumpets of doom - almost certain to double  milk production in seconds.

For some peculiar reason, most of the birds working the area decided to walk home rather than fly, which suggested an entirely new area of audio-agricultural research!  

Apprehensive yows

"With all this stimulating noise about" I thought "these sheep won't need any food at all". This theory was soon verified because the yows stopped munching and just stood there with glazed eyes - mouths tightly shut - determinedly grinding their teeth.

Towards the end of the fourth repeat of the last movement a certain restlessness set in  and when the grand finale echoed off the noble heights of Benevenagh, quite a few of the yows actually jumped the fence and disappeared down the cliff. This could have been a coincidence of course - maybe they were just in the mood for sudden leaps and stupidly took the wrong turn. For all I know they lost their way, as sheep do. I turned the music off anyway - just in case.

The echo took ten minutes to subside.

An hour later Conrad drove by in his massive Ferguson tractor. When he noticed the diminished flock he cursed and examined the fence closely: there were no gaps. He never  looked over the cliff though and simply gathered  the shocked survivors and drove them into a neigbouring field. Still muttering and shaking his head, he left some time later.

The second day

I spent the next day mowing the luscious grass which rather spoiled the looks of the big field. It had grown to such an extent that it was actually waving in the wind and poor Conrad doesn't seem to have the time to look after his lawns properly.

One man went to mow

I laboured for hours, using the new lawn mower I had borrowed from B&Q. I aimed for as smooth a cut as possible and even managed to produce a rather fancy striped effect. When I surveyed my work in the late afternoon the lawn looked like Wembley stadium just before the big match. I threw the cuttings over the cliff where they very conveniently covered up most of the dead sheep.

I had just tidied away the mower when Conrad happened along driving a herd of his famous Texas Longhorns - prize-winning animals of which he is enormously proud. When he noticed the result of my labours he was gratifyingly gob smacked. So were the animals after they tried to get some nourishment from the closely cropped lawn. Hungry steers are very noisy animals!

For some peculiar reason Conrad became very agitated and asked:

"What happened to my grass?"

"It was so long and damp" I explained "that the animals were bound to get wet feet, catch the flu and die. So I trimmed it."

Conrad looked as if he didn't believe either me nor the evidence of his own eyes and asked in a strangely quiet voice:

"What have you done with the cuttings? "

I pointed proudly:

"I dumped them over the cliff. I know how to clean up after myself! "

He glanced over the cliff at the carcass-dotted landscape below and asked suspiciously:

"Are those my animals sticking out of the grass?"

"Yes" said I. "Some of them must have jumped over the edge yesterday. They seem to be easily confused."

"Are you daft or just stupid?" yelled Conrad.

How do you like that? You try to do your best and all you get is yelling and abuse.

I didn't reply because he looked so angry that I thought he might resort to violence. As he stumped away with to drive  his hungry longhorns into  another field down the road he yelled:

"I'll talk to you later - and it will be the last thing you ever hear!"

What a confused man! Hopefully - given time - he will calm down and see that I really have his interests in mind. After all, only because he has lived in the country all his life, doesn't mean that he is right ALL the time. 


The third day

Today - for some peculiar reason - the lambs were panicking. They live on the other lawn that I don't dare to mow now, because of Conrad's strange reaction yesterday. For some reason they suddenly started to gang up together and run up and down the field like maniacs. This looked highly dangerous and would most likely end with broken legs or necks or worse. I didn't think that Conrad was ready to cope with the loss of yet another herd and wondered what I could do to help. Later on the lambs started to jump up into the air with funny little jerks and  decided that enough was enough. I raced into the field and tried toI calm them down but they just made a lot of noise and ran away even faster.

That's when I had my brilliant idea.

One by one I caught the young trouble makers and by shoving their little heads through the wire fence I managed to immobilize them. Some of them struggled a bit, but most of them seemed to appreciate my concerns and stopped struggling after a while. a lock of trapped lambs

All told it took me five hours to catch the little critters, but by sunset I could look proudly across a field bordered by sixty-five little heads trapped in the wire fence and -  safely at rest and quiet as lambs. I have to admit that their mothers looked rather puzzled and set up such a racket, it nearly rivalled the Bruckner performance of the other day. It was this that must have attracted Conrad.

I hid in a hedge because I remembered how angry he had been yesterday. From there I watched him carefully in case he showed further signs of  that fragile temper of his. Conrad spent the next two hours undoing all my hard work, head by little woolly head - all the while looking furiously in the direction of our house.

Gratifyingly, my efforts hadn't been entirely wasted because the surviving lambs just staggered to their mothers for an evening meal. No more dangerous running and jumping - they had obviously learned their lesson. I felt that this just goes to show what can be achieved when you really understand all about farm animals and are not afraid to take corrective action!

As Conrad walked off I heard him mutter:

"One or two, fair enough. But ALL of them? In ONE afternoon????"

Some of his question marks were bigger than Benevenagh.  

The fourth Day

Today was even more exciting.

On the way to town I drove past the field populated by the other day's longhorns. The splendid beasts seemed to be very unhappy, didn't eat much and were all crowded against the fence looking longingly at the field across the road.

"The grass yonder must be greener" I deduced and there and then decided to end their misery and set them free to look for some decent food. I felt sure that this was what Conrad would have wanted me to do. The grass across the road was probably of a superior quality and he must have forgotten about this because of all the excitement of the previous days.

I opened the gate and it was wonderful to observe their reaction! The animals raced to the opening and within seconds the road was filled with grateful longhorns investigating what the rest of the mountain had to offer. Unfortunately I didn't get a chance to open the gate into the other field because I slipped on something smelly and fell flat on my face. By the time I was up and could breathe again, half the animals were stampeding up the mountain while the rest galloped down to the valley below.

The helicopterI was half stunned and the smell was sickening. Some of the steers were eyeing me in a calculating way and one of them aimed his horns in my direction. As I turned to escape I glanced up the road. Half the herd was tearing around the bend when they met a sudden obstacle. Several large and expensive looking limousines accompanied by policemen on motorbikes came racing down the mountain. A helicopter swooped above. There was a sudden screeching of brakes as the unexpected tourists spotted Conrad's prize-winning herd - but the road was very slippery by now and the hill is very steep.

The motor cyclists were the first to go down. They were flung off their mounts one by one but luckily most of them landed softly because of all the cow shit. One of the limousines skidded across the road - doors flying open - and came to rest against the gate I had just opened. The others just drove on until they were stopped by the enraged longhorns. Most of the animals survived the impact - not a single car did.

I explained what had happened to a smelly policeman who had limped over but he could hardly hear me because of the sirens, the shouting, the cursing - and above all the bellowing of the furious Texan bovines. Just as I finished my explanation and the policeman had answered "I don't believe it", Conrad came stalking up the road. He seemed to have developed a very fine sense for abnormal sound effects.

"What's going on?" he yelled.

The policeman looked at Conrad, he looked at me, he looked at the steers. "Are these your beasts, Sir?" said he.

"Yes" answered Conrad. "How did they get out? That is a brand new double fence."

He looked around and pointed at me:

"What's that daft ejit doing here?"

A stampeding herd of Texas Longhorns on Benevenagh The smelly policeman's reply was interrupted by a loud and painful scream. I looked around and noticed a rather well-dressed gentleman who - whilst failing to escape from an enraged longhorn - was in the process of having a most strategic part of his expensive suit pierced by some very long horns. I experienced a sudden wave of deep sympathy.

We gave the policeman a questioning look.


"That" the officer explained with a sigh, "is the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries for Northern Ireland. He is on an inspection tour of the mountain!"

There was short and amused silence as this bit of local news sank in. There are but a few sad fish on Mount Benevenagh, but the sharp ends of agriculture can be found everywhere.

"What a mess" said the stinking officer.

He gave us a hopeful look:

"Somebody should really go and rescue that poor man".

There was no reaction - in this particular instance Conrad and I were in complete agreement. A steer is a steer but a minister is just a politician, after all.

 "I better try and rescue him then" appealed the smelly officer. He knew that he could expect no help from his harassed colleagues because all around us his friends from the ministerial detail were either giving each other first aid or were clearing a small area of the field so that the helicopter could land without manufacturing  more hamburgers.

"What a carve-up!" groaned the officer as he ambled off. However, the minister was luckier than he deserved, because Conrad joined his reluctant rescuer and they bravely protected the ministerial posterior from any further bovine inflictions.

Away they goWhen it was all over and the helicopter with the emergency surgeon treating the ministerial seat was thundering towards Gransha Hospital, where they have a special wing for politicians - Conrad had a long talk with the noxious policeman. I think he is finally starting to appreciate my help because he gave me, what I thought was an encouraging look, before starting to round up what was left of his longhorns.

When I thought about all that had happened I couldn't help but think that maybe I had been responsible for just a tiny fraction of all that damage. I decided not to let that slow me down; after all, practice makes perfect. I am already looking forward to tomorrow.  


The fifth day

I shall continue this account as soon as they let me out of here.

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