Tuesday, October 17, 2006


When we bought our farm, we inherited a small herd of Poll Hereford cows. They weren’t as accessible and cuddly as the dairy cows of my youth but I do enjoy watching them stand and stare into the horizon as they chew their cud.

Over the years we have bred from that initial stock, occasionally adding new cows and introducing a number of bulls. As the herd increased and the feed got scarce, we would send the steers and older cows off to the sale.

That initial herd was led by an extremely intelligent cow who had been dubbed “Mother Cow”. She was a supreme example of the breed and she produced excellent calves.

When Mother Cow fixed her gaze upon you, there was a spooky sense that she possessed knowledge of the mysteries of the universe that stretched well beyond the innate pursuits of grazing and breeding.

She was the leader of the herd but she was cunning enough to sneak away from the others now and then to find a better paddock of feed. Perhaps she simply told them she wanted to be alone for a while. She knew that we wouldn't notice one cow was missing but a whole herd trampling through and chomping down our crop of barley would not go unnoticed.

There was one occasion when Mother Cow’s eerie wisdom came to our rescue. Two cows were fighting over the ownership of a new calf. As the little calf attempted to feed from its mother, the second cow would intervene and try to coax the calf away. We were beginning to wonder how to rectify this situation when Mother Cow took it upon herself to solve the argument.

We watched as she strolled up to the battling cows and, after some mysterious communication between them, she told the calf-less cow to come to her senses, which she did, allowing the real mother and calf to be reunited.

It was a sad day when Mother Cow walked up the ramp of the yards to board the truck that took her off to her last sale.

We decided to buy a Murray Grey bull as they were reputed to be a quiet breed and his genes may help in keeping the herd tame.

Unfortunately, the girls did not like the little grey bull. From the moment he stepped down the ramp and attempted to join the herd, the girls literally ran from him.

It was quite an entertaining though poignant sight to watch a herd of maroon and white streak pass the windows followed by a small but determined grey bull.

The chase went on for a couple of days.

We wondered just what could be done to reconcile the herd with their new bull. We knew that Mother Cow was not our saviour as she was the leader of the pack. Indeed, she was probably the one urging the girls not to breed with this small grey wimp.

Eventually the bull lost all self confidence and he went off and hid in the scrub seemingly unable to face a world filled with rejection.

It was decided that the saying “Familiarity breeds contempt” should be tested to the extreme. We locked up the cows and the bull in the close proximity of the small yards. We knew that contempt was already in place and we had hoped that familiarity may simply breed “familiarity”.

After a day and a night it came time to open the gate and release the cattle and, to our relief, they simply strolled off to graze. The Murray Grey had found acceptance.

When it was time to change bulls, we decided to purchase a Poll Hereford. Although the quiet gene of the Murray Grey seemed to be a good idea, we had been unaware that they also harbour a gene which leaves them with a total disregard and/or respect for fences.

Our new bull arrived with a pedigree and a hyphenated name and the girls fell in love immediately. He was with us for sometime and he produced some very good calves. We were reluctant to sell him but he brought the situation upon himself by constantly picking fights with an equally large and angry neighbouring bull.

Over time we borrowed a couple of bulls who gratefully visited with our willing girls and calves were born and the herd continued. But when the lack of consistent rain reduced feed, we decided not to breed for a while and the cows wandered about the farm bull-free.

However, Nature will prevail and a neighbour’s bull stepped through the fences and busied himself with the girls before being reclaimed by the neighbour. In time we were blessed with 5 male calves and a female calf.

Our daughter grew very fond of the heifer who galloped and tussled with her male peers. There was nothing feminine about Hef. She would gallantly fight and win the head butting contests against the bully boys. If she was a human she would have urinated standing up!

The calves grew and the mothers, unhampered by further pregnancies, fussed about their offspring. The steers grew fat from the feed and the continued suckling of their doting mothers. They grew bigger than their mothers and still fronted up for their daily feeds.

At last it was time to remove the boys from their mothers. They were getting too big and we were running out of feed. The truck arrived one afternoon and the boys were savagely separated from their mothers. There was much consternation. As the boys left the farm in the truck, their mothers trotted after them crying out in despair.

Once the truck had disappeared the mothers turned their anger upon the house. They knew who was to blame and they were going to let us know. They stood at the yard fence and bellowed at the house. We hid inside.

That night the despair continued as plaintiff moos echoed about the farm. Next day they reappeared at the fence and continued to bellow at the house. It was time for action. The spouse gathered up the gun and strode out to the verandah. He aimed the gun to the skies above the irate mothers’ heads and let it fire a couple of times. The mothers, like all animals, possessed the innate terror of firearms and immediately ceased their complaints and turned on their hooves and headed towards the trees. We did not hear another complaint from them.

Once again the farm was without male cattle.

One day our daughter looked down to the paddock below the house to see her treasured Hef stretched out on the black soil. We rushed to check why she was down. Had she developed some disease? Had she been bitten by a snake?

As we neared her we noted that she was not alone. Hef had just delivered a son. It is clear that the genes within the herd had served her well. She was smart and independent like Mother Cow, taking it upon herself to sneak off unseen and locate a bull. And, thanks to whatever skerrick of Murray Grey gene resided in her, stepping through fences would not have been a problem for her.

Yes, Mother Cow would have been so proud!