My Jersey bull John Wayne turns a year old next week, and slowly but surely he is becoming an ugly customer. (I love old English slang. An “ugly customer” is an uncouth, potentially threatening person.)
Duke is not yet actively dangerous. He is rude and pushy. He up-ends water troughs, bashes buckets, and tests his strength against trees. He is also the cockiest young bull I’ve ever had.
Two weeks ago I heard Duke growl low in his throat; I looked up and saw that he was warning Birch, a horse much larger than himself, away from a pile of hay. Horses have raking teeth and battering hooves that normally keep cattle… ahem… cowed. It’s not clear to me if Birch at 27 has simply become too old to cope with confrontations, but for whatever reason Duke obviously now has the upper hand.
In the past when my bulls have become mannerless teenagers, loitering in the barn aisle at turn-out time, I’ve opened Birch’s stall door and used his implied threat to sweep the bull out of the barn. However last week when I turned Birch into the aisle to nudge Duke in the right direction, instead of wheeling and scampering out, Duke braced his shoulders and stood his ground.
Birch looked confused. He raised his head. Duke raised his head. Birch lowered his head. Duke lowered his head. It was a Mexican stand-off.
In the end I let Katika into the aisle behind Birch. Now, Katika is always submissive to horses. How would I get her to shoulder past Birch in the narrow aisle in order to take on Duke?
Hmm. Here’s a potential powder keg! Three thousand pounds of nervous, churning livestock in a four-foot-wide space! I guess the only thing to do is do it quickly.
Standing at Katika’s tail I slapped her rump hard and began to yell. “Go! Go! Go! Out of the barn! Go!”
Katika hates shouting. She jumped away from my voice and found herself alongside Birch. Oh dear, those teeth, better keep moving! She barreled on by, slammed into Duke, spinning him on his haunches, and after a brief jam at the door all three animals were outside.
Katika is not afraid of young bulls but I notice that when she can, she too avoids confrontations with Duke. Though she outweighs him by about four hundred pounds, and would always win in a shoving match, I think she is feeling middle-aged and less inclined to engage. Meanwhile, Rocky, my eighteen-month-old steer, is too mellow to bother with any of it. (I think Ferdinand, the flower-loving bull who liked to snooze under a cork tree, must really have been a steer.)
Due to a clerical error, Duke and Rocky are not due to go to slaughter until December 27. Three more months. I’m less and less enthusiastic about the prospect and will make calls this week to see if I have any more immediate options.
These days whenever I am moving Duke I carry a pitchfork in my hand.