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Saturday, June 23, 2012

The electric meeting of Carmen and Bella

Carmen wasn't exactly a city girl, but neither was she country. She was a town girl, let's say, staying with us a few days, on the 25 acre property we had just out of town.

   She was up bright and early the first morning. I was at the shed down from the house where we kept the poultry food and bales of hay for the couple of cattle we had.

   "Don't touch the fence," I said. "It's electrified. Just come through the gap between those two posts."

   The gap was narrow enough to allow us to squeeze through, but not the cows.

   She did so, gingerly.

   I went into the chookhouse nearby while Carmen stood near the door of the hayshed, looking out across the paddock.

   She attracted the scrutiny of Bella, the big black yearling calf. Half Angus, half Friesian, she was. Having taken after her Angus father in shape, she was meat on the hoof.

   What Bella lacked in brains, she made up for in brawn, but she did have the wit to notice that Carmen was close to the shed door where the hay was kept. On occasions she had seen me emerge from that door with a biscuit of lucerne hay, which she'd get down into the first of her stomachs at lightning speed.

   While I was in the chookhouse, Bella came up the gully and approached Carmen. Bella had hay on her mind, and she didn't care who came up with it as long as it was for her.

   I emerged from the henhouse as she stood there, staring at Carmen with an unblinking gaze.

    "Where's my hay?"

   Carmen was unused to cattle, especially ones behaving a bit aggro. She was rooted to the spot.

   Bella then tossed her head, as impatient cows do.

   "Don't you understand bovine lingo, stupid human? Get my hay!"

   Carmen had not the faintest idea what she was to get, and in fairness to her, one couldn't have expected her to, first day on the job and all. First ten minutes, if it came to that.

   Bella advanced a pace, snorted a little and shook her head again. Me? I just watched in silence. Bella wouldn't hurt a fly, I knew that. She was a big girl's blouse, really.

   Carmen was nervous. She retreated a step.

   Ah, Bella's tiny brain computed. I have asserted dominance. I want results, in the form of hay. Open that door and bring me hay. Now.

   She advanced several steps this time, and Carmen could feel and smell Bella's hot breath on her face from the metre or so that separated them.

   And Brer Fox (that's me), he lay low.

   Eyes fixed on Bella, Carmen retreated one more fateful step.

   There was an audible crack, and I, standing to the side, saw a blue spark flick from the fence to Carmen's rear. Not even new blue jeans can save you when that happens. Honestly, I never saw that part coming.

Illustration by Watto
   The effect was, of course, electric. Carmen gave a shriek like a banshee and bounded forward, hands spread wide, hair like Medusa, wild in the eye. They say some people wouldn't know if their arse was on fire. It must be said that Carmen, quite a smart girl, had no immediate idea what had happened, except that, for a brief moment, she felt that hers was indeed on fire, and every muscle in her body had been jolted by a fair-sized earthquake. Like 20 on the Richter scale, which I think only goes up to about 10.

   Bella for her part realised in a millisecond that she had lost the advantage of dominance. At the speed of static electricity or light (whichever comes first), this silent, meekly retreating human thing had switched persona into explosive and noisy attack mode. Bella turned tail and raced at a gallop down the gully below the dam, and up the hill on the other side to what she calculated was a safe distance; then turned and eyed Carmen with both reproach and grudging respect.

   Carmen just rubbed her bum and looked at me, not altogether without reproach, although, let the record show, unless I had shooed Bella off just a second before the zap, it would all have turned out the same anyway. She had learned a valuable lesson about cows – and electric fences. In that ten minutes, Carmen, you might say, had been very Bizet.

   See, that's what cattle are like, as a rule. They're basically bluff, and you have only to call it and they fold. But I make two exceptions. One is a cow protecting her calf. She'll stop at nothing if she thinks you are a danger to it, but that's true of just about all mothers on the planet really. No surprises there.

   The other is a Jersey bull. They're not big and they look fairly mild out in the paddock, but don't rile one up and be within striking distance of his horns, or you'll discover things about your internal organs that you never thought you'd see, nor would ever want to.


  1. Well, Brer Fox, I don't blame Carmen at all.Poor thing, the touch of an electric fence is no fun! But it's good that when we don't expect something, at least the pain of anticipation isn't there as well to string out the horror. Even I, living on a big farm with lots of sheep and cattle,cannot get used to the fear when a bunch of large, heavy breathing cows chases me along the road, or steadily encircles me in the paddock. As for bulls -I just forgo my walk when they are in residence. I have learned now to shout and wave my arms at cows...and they are beautiful, with their sweet smell, warm bodies, and innocent brown eyes. In fact, I'm not so keen on eating them, these days...

    Julie xx

    1. Nahhh - cows are harmless – anything short of a stampede of Cecil B deMille proportions anyway. Bulls - a different matter. Be careful messing with bulls. As to eating animals, I'm sure if people had to knock them on the head and slit their throats instead of getting steaks neatly plastic wrapped there'd be an amazing change in eating habits - but would hardly go down well with me cattle rancher mates or down on the farm when the milkers passed their Use-by date. You know who you are!

  2. Good story Denis, and you got it right about electric fences and animal psychology. I had a similar experience to that of Carmen when our small yacht dragged anchor in Great Sandy Strait some years ago. While we slept, it drifted ashore on the inside of Fraser Island, balanced for a while on its keel in the mud, then crashed down on to its side. It was 3am, the boat wouldn’t float again till the next high tide; we couldn’t stay in it, so Julie and the poodle made up a bed in the dinghy. With nowhere to sleep (or sit) I set off in the pale moonlight to walk on the muddy ‘beach’ until dawn.
    After a while I realised I was being followed ... there were three dingos padding along behind me. “Shoo”, I said, waving my arms, and they just looked at me in curiosity. Why should I worry, I thought, and continued walking. After a while I turned to check on them again; now there were five and they had closed the gap between us to 20 metres. I shouted at them again and waved my arms, but they didn’t move.
    So, with great presence of mind, I ran straight at them, bellowing and waving my arms. Now this is where it becomes embarrassing, where my scheme went “a-gley”. Running at top speed, the slippery mud my feet beguiled, and I sat down heavily on my backside. But here, as with Carmen, a friendly providence intervened.
    As I slid on my bottom at speed through the mud, yelling and waving, the astonished dingos looked at this incredible apparition hurtling towards them, turned tail and ran for their lives.
    This was a valuable experience which I pass on to all those who might be pursued by a pack of dingos in the hours before dawn. Now you know what to do. Good luck with it.

    1. Ripper of a story, Bob. I was waiting to see where the electric fence came in, but it wasn't needed.

      Would I be right in thinking that this wasn't a wolf-pack ready to tear you to pieces but a group hoping you were going to feed them? I know there was/is a conflict on that island between Wildlife authorities and Animal Welfare people over feeding and the dingoes might have been hoping you were the latter, with food.

      [Alternatively, they might have hoped you were the former and decide to eat you.]

      But it's amazing how often taking on an animal fearlessly can sort them out. It could be a bit of a disaster if the strategy fails though!


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