Friday, October 11, 2013

There's horse folk and there's cow folk

I came out of my house at exactly the right moment to see the cow gallop down the driveway, through the open gates and onto the road. She looked right and left, then headed for the neighbours. They are quiet sorts. The last time I saw the wife, I was returning from a run and gasping for breath while she towed out her wheelie bin on her all-terrain bike thingy. She gave me a wry nod, acknowledging that she'd just used a machine to tow her rubbish bin less than fifty yards. Not a smile or a wave, just a nod. She's a hairdresser.

Anyway, the cow decided she was going to visit these folk because she was on a freedom flight and probably on heat and no electric fence was going to stop her beeline to the bull waiting in the next property over. By the time I'd jogged along the neighbour's drive (shutting the gate behind me just in case) the errant bovine had been locked into a yard by an old bloke staying in a chalet there.

"Go and see Gazza," he said. "He's moving out some horses though. You know how these racehorses can be princesses? You'll need to warn him if Dave the Farmer is coming to pick up his cow. Go up there," he pointed along the drive, past the house, to the sheds. "Head towards that big shed and you'll find him."
"What's his name again?"

I walked past the manicured lawns and gardens to the business end of the property. The place had changed since I was a kid. Back then an old man called Gargie used to shoot the crows on his pumpkin patch. We regularly cracked our teeth on Mum's pumpkin soup or pressure-cooked pumpkin laced with shot. His house and a most excellent mulberry tree have been cleared and replaced with copper-logged horse yards and a corral with a spinning chaff mill that reminded me strangely of Conan the Barbarian, today.

As I neared the shed, I heard the cling clank of metal tools hitting concrete, and then a soft tap tap tap.
I looked in. A man was shoeing a horse, his body bent over the horse's hind hoof. The horse threw up its head at my voice and kicked against the farrier's hold.
"Be with you in a minute," he said in a low voice and I backed out.

He came outside fifteen minutes later. He was a lean, hard man and annoyed at the interruption.
"Hi, I'm Sarah," I said, because over the years we've never had the opportunity to meet beyond a nod. "Dave the Farmer's cow just got out of our paddock and she's shut in one of your yards now. Thought I'd let you know. He'll be here soon to get her."
Droplets of sweat, yellow with dirt, dripped from the end of his nose. He was like a statue, he was so still and carved. As soon as I mentioned the farmer's name his jaw hardened.
"I don't want that cow in my yard," he said.
"I know. I heard you were moving some horses out."
He nodded. He was one of those men whose face and body barely concealed their restrained anger.
"I'll give you ten minutes and then I'll let her out and push her onto the road," he said.
"That's what he'd do. He's a shit neighbour. Done it to my horses, let them out on the road, he has."
"Oh. Okay. Look, she's not my cow, she just stays here."
"He's got cows all around here. He uses everyone up. Get her out in ten minutes or she's on the road. I'd prefer to drive out the cow, than have that man on my property."


  1. So the next 45 minutes were full of three or four white utes at right angles on the road, drivers standing like star jumps trying to head off a cow trudging through the swamp along an electric fence.
    She got home, by the way.

  2. Crikey! Good story. I've come across this kind of thing with farmers too, maybe not a falling out as such, but a territorial thing. I nearly made the mistake of herding some really feral sheep into our neighbour's property out at Deep Creek. They belonged to some equally feral bachelor farmer a couple of kms down the road. I just wanted to make sure they didn't get run over, but my neighbour informed me that you NEVER do that - because other people's animals have diseases that could infect your own. Fair enough I guess.

  3. Yeah sounds about right for this hemisphere too!

  4. Good story. You created a powerful image of Gazza in my mind. I hope you take this as a compliment but much of your writing has an uncanny resemblance to the earthiness of Hemingway (one of my favourite authors) this piece being a very good example.

    "I don't want that cow in my yard," he said.
    "I know. I heard you were moving some horses out."

    Taut dialogue, you can feel the tension.

  5. An interesting thing is the fact that horses are shorter on the hook than cows. Horses are all legs.

  6. Hippo is right. Damn taut, damn good. I have moved animals about, bulls from horseback, feral sheep, who I would not have a bar of - too unruly...and sheep vs cattle farmer angst...for a people with planes we sure love fencing plains.

    1. Michelle is onto it. This is about territorial men, not animals. Cows and nags would get on so much better without the neigghhbours around.

  7. Just in regard to what Pete & Hippo said:

    I've been following your blog since election night. Since I spent most of my young life in the bush (a fair chunk of it on sheep & cattle stations) there's a lot of subject matter here that I feel I can relate to (though not so much the ocean stuff). But your posts are written in such a way that it all feels at an intellectual/literary level that's so far above my head I almost don't want to lower the tone with my knuckle-dragging two-cents.

    Hmmm, that might sound strange; but to the point, I find your way with words quite impressive.

  8. Jeez Alex, I'm talking about a cow here! A few months previous she somersaulted over two fences and I still don't know why she did it. She's earned the moniker of Fence Killer Kate.
    My election night post, I think, was the height of my political analysis career. Doesn't get any better than that. (Sigh) Yours is so much better.

  9. I know Sarah. You're talking about a misbehaving cow going for a wander and I feel like I'm getting engrossed in an excerpt from some marvelous book or something. Weird, I know.

  10. I always find something to laugh about, or wonder at, or admire or all of that when I come here. Great story.