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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

El Torito: love and aggro in the cowyard (3)

It is not good animal husbandry to have the same bull too long with the herd, otherwise he is bound to meet up with his own daughters as adult cows, and he has no idea nor cares a jot that he's their daddy. So change is inevitable if the dairy farmer is not to end up with all the problems of inbreeding.

   My sister Jan tells me that El Torito replaced a bull called Mike. I don't remember him. She also tells me that on one occasion when her husband Ken came a-courting, he jumped into the pen with El Torito, who charged him directly, and Ken barely touched the rails getting up up and away. As she recalls:
I’ve never seen anyone move so fast.  El Torito was left disappointed at the bottom of the yard and Ken headed white-faced back to Dad, who was just about in hysterics.  He laughed about it for years afterwards.
   El Torito remained as long as there was no chance of inbreeding, but as that time approached, Carl, a gentle-natured young red Angus-cross bull, was introduced.

   You may remember at the end of the last episode that I called him Karl. Given that he was as red as the best Bolshevik in the USSR, I thought it was a political comment, but now I remember we got him from Uncle Siv, whose full name was Carl Siverine Jenson. He preferred  to be called Siv, so we appropriated "Carl" in the same way we called the cattledog "Ted" after Ted Whitney and "Rusty" the grey mare after Rusty Toohey, for the obvious reasons.

   This innovation was not to El Torito's liking. Carl was meek and deferential and did his best to keep out of El Torito's way, but Carl still got shown who was boss as often as possible, with a horn in the ribs or a lunge at his belly. On the very rare occasions where passion overcame discretion and he was caught by El Torito in flagrante delicto, his ardour was as quickly cooled as is that of a lover with an angry husband's pistol pointing at vulnerable parts of his anatomy.

   But what El Torito didn't count on was that Carl was a growing boy, and the testosterone was flowing. One day, when El Torito warned him off the lovesick Lurlene with a fierce prod to the gut, Carl decided he'd had enough. Deference disappeared in a flash of rage, and El Torito realised his worst nightmare was on him. No longer meek, a hand taller and fifty kilos heavier than his tormentor, Carl took him on – in the small yard next to the dairy. The cows scattered but there was no escape for El Torito, with Carl trapping him in the corner.

   The battle was short, violent and noisy. After extracting from El Torito a bit of revenge for the scores of jabs in the ribs, Carl would have happily gone on with it, but El Torito saw a strategic gap through which he escaped, Carl hot on his heels. El Torito made for the gate beyond the poinciana tree and leapt the sliprails. More accurately, he broke them down with a splintering crash and fled the field of battle.

   Most animals are smart. Unlike humans, they know when to call it a day and feel no dishonour in defeat. Carl didn't even follow him through the shattered sliprails. He just turned to the cows, vapour fuming from each nostril like you see in cartoons, with a triumphant and pleased look on his face. And a glint in his eye. Carl's cows they were now.

   Henceforth, the wrinkling of the nose would be his task – or pleasure, whatever you want to call it.
POSTSCRIPT Thursday, 20 December 2012 12:25 AM. 
Both Tracey when she read this, and my friend Anne, as you see in the comment below, asked the question, "What happened to El Torito?"

The short answer is, "I don't know."

Why not? How dare you not know! you may say.

When I went off to Teacher's College, El Torito was still with us. When writing letters home from Brisbane, the subject didn't come up. The question of his future was not likely to, in spite of the fact that, as you can see, he made a strong impact on us all. Dramatic events in our lives made El Torito's future the last thing on our minds.

But I can tell you this. There are only two prospects for a bull who has done his time on one cattle property. Either, he is sold on to another one to take up his duties there, or he goes to the meatworks. There are no retirement paddocks for bulls. Every item of livestock on a farm must earn its living, except maybe for a dearly-loved old horse or two.

In El Torito's case, he may have been saved from the meatworks for quite some time because he was a pedigreed bull and his progeny was more valuable than usual in the 1950s. Ultimately though, like all other livestock, his fate eventually would be the slaughterhouse. No farm is a charity – it's a business where sentiment leads to failure. Buy a farm with stars in your eyes and a romantic vision of idyllic existence, and it will end in tears.

That's why I became a teacher, until the university took me into its arms. I always said that farming was a great stimulus to my education, and that's  partly because I vowed never to earn my living running a farm.


  1. I have been waiting for this episode but still feel a bit dissatisfied. I am happy for Carl but what was El Torito's fate? Anne P

    1. You're quite right, Anne. A dereliction of duty, which I hope I've addressed by adding a postscript, as you can see above.


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