A tale of our times


He walks
Towards the grey stone house
Like a battlefield surgeon coming down the line
Or a man who, shaving hastily, contrived to nick
An artery in his neck.
The warm red rain has spattered his face,
Soaked his cap and shirt-collar,
Stained overalls and hands like some apprentice butcher’s.

He knows
This was a task he should have tackled
Back when they were calves,
The horns mere buds, and their removal
No more than a touch of glowing iron,
A brief sharp stink of burning hair –
A job for life in a minute’s easy work.
Now, left so late, it took three men
And a whole sodding day of trodden feet,
Shouting, straining, geysers of muck,
Maddened beasts slamming on sleepers and steel;
An improvised corrida, short on finesse,
Long on blood.

He begrudges
The time, the hurt, the fat fee to the sweating vet;
Still, it had to be done:
Seeing them swaggering into the yard,
Cocksure with their weaponed heads,
There was no question. The wounds, torn wire
And their seigneurial strutting at the trough
Left him no choice
But the crush, the needle and the blade. Yet

He finds
He cannot say who won this one. He’s left
Slumped and blasted, arms hanging like empty sleeves; the beasts
Bewildered, polls still stunned
By adrenaline local and the shock of shears.
All change in the herd, he thinks:
A social shuffling, a shift in power.
A bullet bitten, the right thing done.
But as he stumbles in to wash and eat
He shakes his head. And does not smile.

6 thoughts on “A tale of our times

  1. If they’re allowed to grow, the horns can be very dangerous both to the people handling the animals, and the other cows in the herd; horned cattle tend to bully their way to the top of the social hierarchy and have little respect for anyone! The horns may also get caught up in fence-wire, and the animals can easily panic and injure themselves trying to get free (as well as damaging the fence in the process!) Dehorning is usually done when they’re young calves, using a hot iron; when they’re grown up, it’s a job for the vet – involving local anaesthetic and a big set of shears – and quite a rodeo.

  2. A wonderful metaphor Nick to remind us that putting off doing something we know needs to be done never makes it easier.

    A leson I have, from time to time, to re-learn 🙂

    • Thank you, David – and yes, I’m a serial procrastinator myself! It was only halfway writing through this poem that I realised it was also a metaphor for the painful-but-necessary (so they tell us) cuts being made by the Govt; our beloved Chancellor may feel he’s doing the right thing, but I’m pretty sure he’ll end up with blood on his hands. Great to see you here, as always, my friend.

  3. Thank you Charles – the farmer in question is one of my wife’s relatives over in Wales; he was quite a sight when we called in to see him during our recent visit. Fortunately we didn’t witness the dehorning itself; I let my imagination fill in what had been going on prior to our arrival!

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