Billy is the heart of the farm.
I have bred from him for a decade: fine, longframed Highland cattle. Generations on damp bundles dropped in damp, snowstrewn fields have turned to robust, curly haired inquisitive calves to questing yearlings and finally the adult, horn-toting splendour of mature showstopping beef animals.
This spring he has provided me with a full crop of perhaps the finest calves ever-
His back legs struggle to propel him onto the backs of the standing females, so Angus Halfhorn has taken on his duties.
This morning he digs his horns into the feeder, raking through one of my last bales of expensive silage and hurling great gouts over his back to be trampled and spoilt. I rescue what I can, cussing him as I do it; he is not concerned. I tickle his spine, leaning my body into the cavity where his ribs end, resting my chin on his back so as to inhale the musty warmth of his giant body. He drops his head, pinning his ears back against his powerful neck in appreciation.
‘Who is that with the horns at the bottom of the field?’ comments Lynda at the kitchen window, preparing dinner for Sam and Sarah due from London any minute.
‘That’ll be Angus Halfhorn with the girls in the Aspen paddock.’
‘But there are two of them.’
Speed is vital: grab coat & wellies, sprint to the quad, grab a sack of feed, hurtle down the field. The gate to the hayfield is lying flat- he has used his horns to huich it from its hinges.
Billy is already tussling horns with Angie through the net squares of the deer fence separating them – the fence bulges, the wires part. They are bellowing, roaring full in each other’s faces, their heads black with dirt they have gouged from the soil to paint themselves for war.
I kick Billy’s horns, slap his nose with the feed bag so that he backs off from the fence. He turns and roars at me, while Angie encouraged by this apparent retreat, redoubles his efforts to engage . Billy turns back to the main task. I continue to rattle the bag, needling and distracting him. He takes a handful of nuts in mid bellow but then turns back to the fence.
Something more is required – something bigger.
I gun the quad across the spring grass and jump into the cab of the JCB parked in the yard, rejoining the contestants as quick as I can. Reversing the seven ton machine towards the fence, I turn in my seat to swing the back actor against the big animal. This shifts him- but only sideways: Angie keeps pace on the other side of the wire. When I succeed in ushering him away with the heavy steel bucket, he turns and thunders to his mark. He is now parked under the electricity pole where I decide, after a few apprehensive manouvres, that he is unreachable. I switch off and jump down, turning my attentions to Angie.
If I can just make some space between the the two of them..
I climb the fence with a feed bag. Angie and the spectator cows line the fence at the top of a steep bank: birch and aspen grow sparsely lower down the slope, loose with glacial sand. The females turn as I slide downwards calling them to feed, and follow, lurching and slipping as they race to be first. I head for the first tree to protect me from an inadvertent runaway coming at me horns first, and then the second.
At the bottom I unhitch the gate opening on a small flood-vulnerable paddock with fresh grass. The girls follow through, leaving Angus at the top still bellowing insults at his father. I scramble up, kick his neck to turn him and belt his arse to propel him down the slope. Once started it is easier for him to continue that lunge upwards, and he joins the girls outside the enclosure.
There are now two deerfences to be crossed before jousting can recommence.
This is no obstacle to Billy who can still see his rival below; he starts rooting up the bottom of the fence.
I clobber him with the feed bag, lure him briefly aside with handfuls of feed – he turns back to the task.
I look round. The deficiency in my farm planning is exposed. From this elevation there is nowhere to hide the animals from each other. If I try to lead the others away, it will mean leaving the protection of the high fence, and a stock fence will be easy meat to either of the beefy contestants.
Wack his head, feed him nuts, back to the fence, wack his head…. If only he would tire!
Finally I lure him a few metres outward and bring the digger in behind, nudging him through the gate and into the silage field. He gallops to the far end, I give chase at full throttle, the old machine rattling and shaking with the effort and just intercept him as he slows before the stock fence, turning him towards the top gate and onto the road – in the hope of taking him up to the yard.
He turns downhill.
I charge past him on the machine and swing the bucket to halt his progress, he stampedes downhill towards a wicket gate leading to Logan’s meadow adjacent to the other animals. I must get there first. I speed down to the bend, swing wide to turn on the brae above the kitchen garden and fly down the road to the gate, arriving as he does. I skid to stillness, and jump down as he starts to lift the light gate on his horns.
I kick his horns away from the bars, yelling myself hoarse to distract him.
A pink shirted figure ambles down the hill:
Sam has arrived, after an eight hour car journey he has collected a bag of feed from the yard to restock my supply. Finally Billy succumbs to the lure, and follows my food call back up the road to rejoin his elderly cows.
I close the gate, rehanging it.
‘Do that again darling man-
and I will shoot you.’
I am not joking.