Sunday, May 15, 2011
Henry The Bull
Growing up on a cattle farm, I spent hours and hours in the pasture. My mother warned me to stay away from "Henry" the Black Angus Bull, and I did. His progeny were a different matter. Over those years I perfected a method of befriending the steer and the calves. Cattle are shy creatures. I patiently gained their trust. I'd get closer and closer to them over a few days and then sit and wait. Their curiosity piqued, they would inch closer, necks outstretched, nostrils snorting and breathing deeply. I would offer an apple then, and bristle-y tongues would dart and arc out of their mouths to chance a taste. The group would move as one, but there was always a leader a little more bold than the others. He'd get the first contact and back up, the whole group backing away with him. He'd come again and again. Finally, he'd get a bite of apple.
I considered it a success if I managed to get a touch or a pet in. They were cute. The mothers were remarkably trusting. Henry pretty much stayed away, and ate to fuel his giant body. Years later as an adult, I'd still enjoy watching the Black Angus herds on neighboring farms. Susanna was two or three when she asked to go see the "Black Mangoes." Took me a minute, but with a laugh we jumped in the car and did just that.
A well-known method of relaxation is to imagine yourself in a peaceful place, maybe on the beach or at a park or beside a bubbling brook. To this day, my place of refuge is in the pasture, under the trees on the farm where I was a child. We had no PC's, no videos, no cell phones. No, but we did have hours and hours of play, adventure, exercise, creativity and make-believe. I want to be sure that my children have that.
Old Henry? He really was calm--except when a neighboring Hereford Bull broke out one day. Henry cracked out of the post-and-rail fence as though it were chopsticks, and faced off. He'd be sure that no other bull would get to his cows. Mr. Mayo, Henry's owner, saw it all and raced to the scene. With courageous effort he managed to scare off the other bull. Henry, however, would not budge. The story goes that Mr. Mayo had to grab a 2 X 4 to "convince" angry Henry to go back through the broken fence. It was about the only Henry drama we ever knew.
A few years ago we acquired a bull calf. A Jersey. We named him Henry. It didn't take long for us to realize we'd have to either castrate him or sell him (what were we thinking?). Luckily, a local woman who milks her own cow needed a young calf. Her cow's calf had died and she wanted to see if Henry would be accepted by her; that is, if we could part with him. We were happy for Henry to have a better purpose in life than to fulfill a memory or a whim of mine. He didn't need to be paraded over little jumps and ridden one day (cattle do jump!). We certainly would never have been able to send him to slaughter. We had bonded, and he was just too cute.
There are so many good memories of the old farm that I'm thankful for. It's why I asked Bruce if we could try our hand at small-farming. It's a lot of work. Bruce's co-workers talk about perfect lawns and carpentry workshops and television viewing. Bruce plays with children and cuts grass. Many children and lots of grass. He never complains. I love my suburbian-raised husband for loving me enough to take on this farm. He says he loves our place, too.
I don't think we'll ever raise beef cattle. I just have too many memories of my friends,
the Black Mangoes.
The Abbey Farm
Photography by my brother, Chip Greene