Sunday 5 July 2009

Danger in the countryside

I wasn't going to write anything for a day or two, however, I have just had the customary hot bath/long soak after being cooked like a lobster all afternoon whilst clipping big, fat, cantankerous sheep out doors in the blazing sun. Whilst in the bath I got on thinking - always dangerous! I had watched the news previous to my soak in order to find out what the weather was going to do over the next few days, there was a Look North news bulletin regarding a person injured by cattle in 2003 and like I say, it got me on thinking.

Cattle can be dangerous and anyone reading this needs to know, in fact, now that we have freedom to roam in this country, allowing free access to some hill ground, the government itself ought to ensure that everyone is aware of the dangers in the countryside.

Back to cattle. All animals are protective of their off spring, cattle are big animals and therefore pose a greater threat. There are suckler cow herds here in the North Tyne. A suckler cow runs loose out on the hills and pastures with her calf at foot. Often a young calf will be left lying back somewhere out of sight, the cow will return to feed it and once it's belly is full it will lie down content and she'll wander back and join the rest of the herd. Should you come across a calf on its own steer clear, do not disturb it, have eyes in the back of your head and keep well away, do not put yourself between the herd of cows and the calf. Imagine you had a child a distance away from you and you saw a stranger approaching or worse still lingering, what would your natural instinct be?? The same as the cows, except she is a great deal bigger than you.

As the calves get older they join the herd, often lying in groups with a matriarch keeping a watchful eye as other mothers wander further away grazing. The instinct of protection is just as strong but now there is more than one cow to consider, steer clear and be aware that there are cattle about.

Then there are what we call stirks, these are older calves, weaned off their mothers, young cattle by rights. Stirks are often seen running together in herds on pasture ground throughout the summer months, they don't have a mother to protect them but they do have each other. Cattle in general are curious animals, stirks in particular, anything out of the norm they like to go and investigate, that includes you going for a walk. They will most probably come wandering over or even possibly galloping over to have a look, will follow you, frolicking around and getting excited like a group of idle teenagers, not intent on causing harm but over excitement could lead to anything, be on your guard.

Walking a dog amongst cattle is not a wise move, you may not realise the cattle are there, once you get them in your sights alter your track if it is going to take you near them. When walking a dog on any sort of farm land it ought to be on a lead and under control, however, should you find yourself in the position that cattle have taken an interest in you and you feel threatened by their company drop the lead and encourage the dog to run. A dog can run a darn sight faster than you and it is posing a greater threat to the cattle than you are - get rid of the dog, do not try to protect it, let it loose and find the quickest route out of there, but may I add that if you run the cattle will almost most definitely run too. Try to remain calm and find the shortest route to a safe place which is most often the other side of a fence/ wall or whatever.

Ideally just steer clear of cattle full stop, don't be pig headed and insist on sticking to the correct path, make a detour.

Cattle aren't just a threat to the general public they can be a threat to those who work with them day in and day out, especially when fresh calved, fortunately farmers and stock men understand the nature of the beast, but believe you me they can still be caught out.

Many years ago I reared a calf on the bucket, it was a blue grey bullock and dead cute, little orphan baby - aah... I guess I became its surrogate mother, it would skip and frolic around when it saw me, give me gentle nudges and bumps with its head, all good fun. Once weaned off the bucket it ran with the rest of the herd and eventually wintered with the other stirks in the cattle shed. Twice a week I would go into the shed amongst the stirks and bed them up with small bales of straw. My pet calf was now the size of half grown cow and it would run to me, skip and frolic around, kick its heels up a height (to my head height) and dunt me with its head (knocking me off my feet). I had to carry a stick, and calf and I were no longer great friends, there was absolutely no malice intended but the size and weight it had grown into meant it was just a matter of time before I was going to get hurt.

It's not just cattle that pose a threat in the countryside but right at this moment I don't have time to educate you any further. Anyone reading this please spread the word and use your common sense. Farmers ought not to be held responsible for their animals natural instincts, the government, who passed the right to roam act, ought to educate everyone to help them understand the hidden dangers in the countryside. on that note I'm off to bed - long overdue.