Western Morning News

Covid – and cows – adding to the risks in life

- Anton Coaker

I’M crook. See I’ve been doing a bit of pre-movement TB testing – for to ‘export’ a few Riggit and White Galloways to Scotland, which is the hill farming equivalent of selling oil back to the Saudis. One animal was a beast I really didn’t want to be parted from, and subsequent­ly had a fairly stiff price… but she went too. She was out of a cow I kept into old age, as she reliably bred and raised very solid chunky calves. In 17-18 years, she never gave me a negative cause to notice her presence, and they are the ones you want! The sire was the infamous red Riggit ‘Firethorn’, who left his characterf­ul stamp across the whole herd – and due to an abiding interest in my neighbours cows… their herds as well. However, money talks and I named my price, and she’s gone north up onto an Ayrshire hill. I notice she raised a very striking heifer calf backalong, which is quite a personalit­y and will certainly be staying here.

Anyway, it was while testing these cows that I thought to PD – pregnancy diagnose - a few South Devon heifers. They’d run with the Angus bull, who we’d lately noticed wasn’t

doing what he should’ve. And sure enough, two out of eight are empty, suggesting I’ll also have about 10 empty Galloways after him as well. Harrumph. However, it was the dopey South Devon heifers which feature in my tale, and one of them tired of my waving a stick at her – they were being especially wooden on the day – just stood ignoring my requests to move along the chute in an orderly fashion. She responded by kicking me square on the knee, from about as far away as she could still make contact. And by gum it hurt – and hurts yet. It damn near knocked me to the ground at the time, and for several days I was dragging my leg around the farm behind me, in a singularly undignifie­d fashion.

After two weeks it’s sore, but bearable, and has been a sharp reminder of how near the edge my profession takes me. At any moment – and if you’re going to handle cattle, it really can happen at any time – I could be invalided out of my work. I could invest in clever handling systems that separate me from the beasts ever further, but from what I’ve seen if you go through life thinking like that you simply end up with beasts less used to people, and more dangerous than ever. I wouldn’t want to live like that. I go in amongst my cattle, scratch their hairy rumps, and endeavour to keep them as quiet as may be. I have to accept equally the steamy slobbering hay-flavoured kisses, and the risks. For me, there’s no other way. It’s how I grew up, and might well be the way I eventually check out.

Risk is a funny thing. Poor old Boris is coming under all kinds of flak for managing the risks Covid 19 has placed us under, despite it being clear that whole tranches of the community are less bothered than his advisors would like. It’s further muddied when, for all the talk, he then hops on his bike and pedals several miles from his residence for a bit of healthy exercise. Given his residence is in the middle of what would’ve been a hotbed of infection at the moment, you’ve got to wonder how he keeps a straight face. But hey ho. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t do better.

Personally, I’m reluctant to admit it but I’m pretty ambivalent. We’re un-naturally over populated, and looking through farmer goggles, nature disapprove­s of continuous overstocki­ng just as much as she abhors a vacuum. By suppressin­g the infection rate within our community, we’ve only achieved two things. It’s allowed ‘essential’ workers to keep going – during several previous historic pandemics there were often too many people incapacita­ted through illness to even bury the dead. And it has given us breathing space to create a vaccine, which might very well end the crisis. Of course we don’t know how the virus will evolve. I’m guessing it will keep changing, leading to good employment prospects for virologist­s and such boffins for years to come.

But it’s no good pretending this has been the ‘big one’. It hasn’t. By simple comparison, Spanish flu in 1918-20 would’ve knocked down well over 2 million Brits given our current population… and most of them would’ve been young adults. Perhaps modern medicine would’ve saved more, and prevalence of TB in people then was a complicati­on. Mind, we also move around a bit more nowadays...

So, don’t shout at Boris... it’s somewhat above his pay grade, or anyone else’s come to that. I’m sorry.

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 ??  ?? Anton Coaker and Dougal
Anton Coaker and Dougal

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