Denis Lehane: Calm farmers for calm livestock

Cattle should be talked to on a regular basis.

The subject of breeding is not something I frequently broach on this page, for fear of frightening away the more timid reader.

However today, timid or not, I feel I must catch the bull by the horns and discuss livestock breeding in a robust and frank manner.

Something has come up, you see.

A few days ago, Dr Noirín McHugh of Teagasc, suggested, at some talk or other, that cattle could be bred for docility.

And in all my years on the land, I had never heard such balderdash.

You see, from personal experience farming here, out in the wilds of Kilmichael, I know full well that it can be hard enough to get animals to breed in the first place, without looking into the personalities of those involved.

Cross, quiet, happy or sad, it’s what is going on down below, if you catch my drift, that’s the most important element in such intimate encounters.

And taking it a step further, just because a bull or cow might be a bit cross doesn’t mean they will automatically throw a cantankerous offspring.

In human life, just as in the animal kingdom, I have seen many cases where the greatest of blaggards have fathered the most saintly of individuals.

I have seen families going from the jail house to the parochial house in the space of a generation. And it’s the very same with cattle.

In the animal kingdom, temperament has very little to do with breeding, but all to do with how you look after the creature.

For example, you will often find where a farmer is the devil for shouting and using the stick, his cattle will be as cantankerous and contrary as himself.

Calmness in the farmer leads to calmness in the cattle. You will never find docile cattle on the farm of a nutcase.

And another factor that can lead to wildness in cattle is a lack of human contact.

Toss a bunch of cattle into a plot of ground for three weeks without bothering your behind to look at them on a daily basis, and at the end of it all, you will have a lively bunch of cattle.

Cattle need to see people, they need to be talked to on a regular basis.

They are, once again, the very same as humans in this regard.

I must emphasise I am speaking on this matter in a personal capacity.

I have often spent large quantities of time cut off from all human contact. This was particularly the case when I was single.

This of course was not by design, but merely the nature of farming life.

I would have loved to have been in the company of others, particularly if the others happened to be women, but alas and alack, ’twas a one man show.

Anyhow, as a consequence of such isolation, or as the great John B Keane used to put it, “the constant struggle with loneliness”, I would find myself, while perhaps not as mad as a hatter, certainly more airy when returned to company.

A bit like Crocodile Dundee when he came out of the bush, you’d be half inclined to climb the nearest lamppost, when in a crowd situation.

So maybe if the experts concentrated more on the farmer himself, perhaps the docile animal would follow suit.


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