Continued from 23 September
So there we were facing uncertain & agitated cattle bunched-up at the wrong end of the pen. ’Don’t worry’ said the merchant & in a flash he was over the high, gray-metal bars & back with the animals. Again, he went alongside the large, black bull & talking all the time softly to the animal insistantly moved the beast out of the corner & back down the sloping concrete to where the truck waited, it’s ramp rising up into a large, dim interior cut by the slotted light coming through the ventilation bars on its side. Luca was next in behind the animals as they moved out following the bull. I saw that Minerva the sheepdog was waiting outside the pen but at the entrance to the truck’s ramp. I went &, much against her wishes, forced her to come to a point well behind the animals reasoning that it was best that they didn’t find a large white maremmano dog staring at them as they were thinknig whether or not to enter the truck!
When a got back to my starting point with the dog, I realised, with relief, that there was no need for my presence with the cattle. Two people, moving softly & gently were more than enough. I had hardly time to consider my good luck when one of the cows, cornered & with no-where to go but up, lurched onto the ramp & in a thrice was inside the truck & then another & another & finally the bull, all rushing suddenly not wanting to be left behind.
’Quick, quick, close the doors & suddenly all hell broke loose as we rushed here & their, pulling-up bolts, cutting twine & finally swinging the large steel doors of the truck shut. ’Bang’ went the ramp as it was hoisted-up against the now-closed doors. ’Bang’ a large transverse bar locked in place, then another. Then quiet. That was it. The animals were inside & we were all OK!
Yesterday, a cattle merchant came & took away four cattle: the bull & two large & one small female. Our experience, up until now, with sending away cows or bulls, has been unpleasant. It is always our butcher who takes the beasts away. Obviously, they don’t want to get into his truck, being a butcher, he prefers his animals upside-down on a hook & is scared of them when they are free, so there is always too much pushing & pulling & those occasions when an animal has freely entered the truck without grief have been rare. We always felt that there had to be a gentler way & constantly pressured our butcher not to stress the animals but to treat them as they are treated here, but always, his fear got the better of him, & somehow the animals knew it & didn’t let themselves be steared unresistingly up the ramp of the truck & thereon to oblivion.
Yesterday was different. When I arrived at the animals enclosure, the four largest cattle, including the prime bull, were already closed together in a pen which, at one corner, had a narrow gate opening up onto the ramp into the truck. The ramp had straw spread over it.
’Maybe I can give you a hand’ I said to the merchant. I think that Luca was quite relieved to see me although we had agreed that I would stay in the wine cellar making the white wines which were busy fermenting away.
’ Yes, absolutely’ the merchant replied. ’We’re all going to get into the pen & very slowly herd the animals to the gate. Are you arfraid to get in with them?’ he asked?
’No no’ I said but, in truth, I was rather afraid recalling the words of an English country doctor who was staying at La Faula only last week & who had recounted what terrible injuries farmers can suffer by being crushed by cattle. I was particularly afraid of the bull remembering also my mother’s account of her time as a farm-girl during the war when she had to intervene to save a farmer who was being gored by a bull. I looked around & saw that there was a pitchfork handy. I took it knowing that it would provide little protection if I was charged in the pen by one of the animals but going in without would have seemed like going in naked.
’No, no, you won’t need’ that said the merchant. ’We’re just going to move them constantly & firmly down to the corner - once one enters the truck they all will. Don’t poke them, it’ll just rattle them & then we won’t be able to do anything with them. Be careful of the bull & the red cow - they can damage you terribly with their horns!’ he added.
I had one of those moments that seem fairly common at La Faula when I know that I am about to embark on some activity of uncertain outcome, but with certain, & potentially grave risks & one will only know at the end if it turned out alright or not!
The merchant was quickly in the pen followed closely by Luca. I entered slowly, almost reluctantly. The merchant went straight to the bull. In his hand he had a wooden walking stick which he wielded as if it were a shephards crook - he gently stroked the rump of the bull with the stick while making low soft clicking noises.
’’Char, char, come-on’ he repeated pushing towards the bull & obliging the animal to move down the pen. We did the same until all four, cows & bulls, were in the pen’s corner with only two ways to go: up the ramp & into the truck or, pushing through the three of us, back to the far corner of the pen from where we had shifted them.
Finding themselves in a corner, the cattle turned to face us weighing up whether we constituted enough of a barrier to block them. Realising this, I prayed that they wouldn’t put us to the test. They moved towards us. We moved towards them making the ’char, char’ sound; they stopped. The initiative was ours. The merchant returned to stroking & gently pushing the bull. &then, the younger bull started up the ramp.’Char, char’ we pushed & insisted. We stopped. Not wanting to frighten him. & then the small bull was up & in the truck. ’They’ll all go now said the merchant’ ’Char char’ but they didn’t, the other three beasts, unwilling to follow, started milling around, the small bull came down from the truck & they made a break for it, we jumped out of the way & there they were, at the end of the pen - the place from where we had started but this time, we knew, more agitated & uncertain!
To be continued