Looking out the window this summer, you'd think it was a pleasant time to be a farmer. Not so. With low milk prices, supermarket dominance, TB tests and a badger cull, the writing has been on the wall for small, family-run farms. Having seen The Moo Man at Sundance earlier this year, So It Goes editor Joshua Bullock was inspired to write a short story.
I put my boots on then took them off. I put the galoshes on and the boots under them and stamped the mud out though it was wet outside.
When I came out into the yard the animals had gone in and I could see the heads of cattle over the slats of the open barn door. The rain had come back so quick it drove them in quicker than it did me out. It was cold. As waterproof as these top-of-the-range Barbours are that you get now, there’s nothing dry on the hill in January except that’s stood by the fire. I could have stayed inside, probably should have. No, that’s not quite right. I don’t mean that.
I crossed over the way and went inside to see them right and pull some hay out the rafters. This happens all the time. As I reached for a square bale something came behind me and hit me. It wasn’t a swipe of the head. A Friesian won’t do that. Other breeds perhaps. I don’t know. When a Friesian heifer gets uppity she’ll try and lean into you on the turn like some clumsy centre-half. They’re half a tonne of beef and, if they catch you right, all the air in your body comes out your mouth in what feels like one breath.
I fell on the floor like a pocket turned out. Right in the middle of the concrete floor. I was lucky where I fell didn’t get me trampled. I lay looking up through the slats at the straw I’d just been fetching down. As flat as flat because you can’t pull your head up for the pain it does your stomach.
Thinking back now, I was lucky there hadn’t been thunder with the rain, because that would have had the cattle skittish and ready to panic. I would have been churned up like so much turf under the dozen pressing in around me for the hay.
She’d laid her head on my ribs and she was forcing it down. A cow head is heavy enough but with her strength it was more than my ribs could take. I think one of them cracked then, and I felt a shuddering and saw the black trunk of her neck twisting like a rolling pin over pastry. I realised then she was dropping onto one knee then the other for more force. There was a moment’s give then she was crouched and forcing down my chest – that huge weight coming down on me, the barn’s concrete floor at my back, spreadeagled between the two. The herd just eating hay around me, as callous to the killing being done as a prison yard.I didn’t think that at the time though. I wasn’t thinking much except feeling stupid and angry when the heifer that caught me lowered her big head down between my legs. I remember her sweet, grassy breath because she laid it slowly, not fiercely. She did it deliberately, and I wasn’t afraid, just sort of irritated that she’d caught me so hard. Of course, I didn’t know what she was doing until a second later when my chest started hurting again. A deeper pain, not like a winding, it was outside in not inside out, a massive pressure I hadn’t felt before.
I hadn’t seen the farm in days for the mist and rain. There wasn’t any peace to my thoughts like they talk about. I wasn’t terrified as it came, I was just sad I hadn’t walked the fields and said goodbye. I was dying on a wet Sunday evening with the wife out. Like Martin Priestly up the hill who had been crushed against the inside of his dairy and found dead the next day. And I remember thinking, ‘Is this the way it’s going to happen?’ And what a sullen, fat bitch she was who had done for me. I knew her well you see.