A North Shore medicine man and his cattle

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The trouble with having cattle is you get attached to them, and they to you.

Dr. William O'Flaherty

Each day, twice a day, as they see the Ford pickup climb up Cemetery Road in Adam's Cove, close by their home garden, out they come, all nine of them out from the edge of the grove of trees where they spend most of their time now that the fall of the year is getting along. The Jersey, the smallest of the herd, the boss lady, leads them across the frozen ground toward the gate. Two of the younger members, two heifers, kick up their heels across the field. The rest, the sensible oldsters, followed behind her at a measured pace. The Jersey knows, and they all know, that I have food for them.

The two dogs, the two setters in the pan of the truck, await my permission for them to get out. Their greatest joy, other than going on the barrens hunting for partridge, is riding in the pan of the pickup.

We get out of the truck, the youngsters and I, two of us with bags in our hands. The cattle crowd the gate, brown eyes staring, heads uplifted, noses smelling until we throw the past-its-date bread on the ground, bread that I've collected from the grocery stores, the owners glad to get rid of it. There's a bit of mould on some slices. The animals don't seem to mind. The Jersey's milk tomorrow will be particularly creamy and the day after as well.

After the bread meal I let the dogs out, lowering the tail board. Out they come and into the garden, delighted to peruse what all is going on in Adam's Cove. What would you expect, after all, they haven't been here since yesterday.

The Jersey ignores them. She is the matriarch of the herd, a cut above the ordinary. None of them question her seniority and her prominence in her little empire. The only one she recognizes as being above her is me. I am the top dog, or should I say, the top bovine. When I scratch the ears of the Hereford or the Black Angus she drives them away from the caressing hand. That is her place. She is second in command, a smidgen below me.

The bread meal done, they need more. Close by, on a neighbour's land, I have planted a field of turnips — "cattle turnips," as they are called where I come from — allowed to grow as big as buckets and false-hearted to boot. Scraping off some of the clay I throw a couple of dozen of them high in the air over the fence, shattering them into pieces as they hit the frozen ground.

The two Black Angus cattle, as interested as they are in feeding, have other objects in mind. The two dogs, now close at hand and minding their own business, have become targets of annihilation as far as the two black cattle are concerned. Their only object at this point is to crush the two canines into the earth. The two setters, deftly stepping aside at each rush from the thundering masses, look at me with surprise, wondering from whence came such hatred. Mind you, they received the same hostile welcome yesterday and the day before.

The Jersey, now finished her allotment of bread and turnips (that creamy milk will have a hint of turnip tomorrow — no matter, you can't have it all perfect) now accepts the fact that, besides being boss of the herd, there is another reason for her being. She has to be milked.

Nellie (that’s her name) never needs to be tethered while she is being milked. There she stands chewing the cud, her eyes half asleep whilst all around her is bedlam, what with dogs being chased by cattle and youngsters doing what children will do, including leaning up against the soft area below her neck where it is warm and furry. Nellie doesn't mind. After all, she has had several youngsters herself.

But the Charalois bull, recently arrived in the herd and only now being accepted. Animals have their prejudices, don't ya know. Unlike the Black Angus, he has none of the venom in his genes against the two dogs. He probably was reared up in more sophisticated surroundings, and he allows himself to be petted by the children. He has blond curly hair that has to be the envy of many up and coming North Shore female — the youngsters call him that "sexy bull". He accepts their caresses. He does not know they envy his locks.

They know the routine, this small herd on my hobby farm. They accept the fact that I arrive with the dogs, and usually with the children at certain times, today, and yesterday and the day before that. On a couple of occasions, having forgotten something, I arrive in the dark of the night, quite unexpected. I can hear them, all lying on the pasture at the lower end of the garden. I can hear their sounds of concern, of wonderment at what is going on. This is not what they are accustomed to.

But then, soon, I move upwind from them. They can't see me too well but they can smell me and they soon know there is nothing to fear.

I now hear sounds of a herd at ease, at peace for the night. After all the top bovine is here and all is safe until the morrow.

— Dr. William O'Flaherty worked a 40-year career as a country doctor in Newfoundland and New Brunswick. He was the country doctor in Western Bay, on the north shore of Conception Bay, from 1967 to 1989, and was born in the tiny fishing village of Long Beach, at the lower end Northern Bay. He writes from Moncton, NB.

Geographic location: Jersey, North Shore, Cemetery Road Newfoundland New Brunswick Western Bay Conception Bay Long Beach Northern Bay Moncton

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Recent comments

  • Vicki Betts
    March 11, 2014 - 20:00

    Very nice story that kept my interest through to the end of the story. It is a gloomy day in Big Bear Lake, CA and this put a smile on my face. Thanks, Doc.

  • Marina O'Flaherty
    March 11, 2014 - 18:53

    I came along after Nellie but I have heard so many stories of her and the other cattle. We stop, sometimes, in Adams Cove and it seems that there is always another story to be told. While I enjoy all of your writings, this one is my favorite and maybe because I have heard so many cattle stories that I can actually relate. I feel like I could have been one of those youngsters you refer to. As well, I know that Lisa enjoys reading them. It definitely helps her keep in touch with her roots from the mouth of her Grandfather.

  • Jamie O'Flaherty
    March 11, 2014 - 15:10

    Now that I'm aged (older than dad was in the time of this story) and somewhat matured (my dear wife of 34 years would differ), I have a lot fond memories and a lot more respect for those days. Nellie's milk was scalded on the stove in an old fashioned white enamel pan, the cream skimmed off and then the milk strained through a cheesecloth. I used to drink probably a gallon of that rich milk a day, at least, and oh, how I've longed for a cold glass of it so many times over the years. I remember taking Lisa (my daughter) to the Harrow fair one fine Labour Day weekend and brought her into the cattle barn. There was a Jersey, she could have been Nellie's twin. She turned in her stall and looked at me with those big brown eyes, with the lashes any woman would die for, and so many memories came back to me. Lisa asked what was wrong with my eyes? "Something in my eye baby, it's nothing". As I've heard Dad say so many times "It's too bad youth is wasted on the young". How true ............................. how sadly true.

    • Allen Rogers
      March 12, 2014 - 11:33

      Oh Jamie, while reading your reply it is apparent you share the same gift as your father. You should do us all a favour and take pen in hand and write us a book. I must say I have enjoyed many of your Dad's writings but this is a favourite of mine as you know my love of the bovine. It is amazing how they slowly but surely creep into your heart. Thanks for showing me this article.