Lettuce for Mojo

bull-and-cows-dam-camp

When I was 8 months pregnant I was charged by a bull.  Mojo was new on the farm, full of testosterone and showing off to his new harem.  I was checking on the pregnant cows to see all was well.  I had never felt any fear before and so when the bull started to paw at the dirt and move threateningly towards me I shouted back at him slightly annoyed at his foolishness.  When he continued to move towards me I shouted again but this time, a little unsettled, I started moving backwards, putting a thorn bush between us.  When this made no difference to his show of strength, fear counseled me to end the standoff and get myself and my large belly as speedily as possible to the other side of the barbed wire fence.

For a few years following this experience, every time I was in the kraal with Mojo, I would feel him watching me and was convinced that he was going to charge me again.  (FYI: Mojo’s breeder, Chris Hobson, had originally named him Lettuce after Chris’ 3 year old fed him the salad out of his hand!  Amazing the change in a male when trying to impress a group of females…).

mojo

While I was nervous around Mojo I felt fine around other cattle… Until late last year. I was herding a group of cows to another camp when a cow with a small calf mock charged me.  I assumed it was the dog that was threatening her and so I put the dog in the bakkie.  A few kms down the road she did it again and then again.  By the time we reached the camp we were headed for she had charged me 7 or 8 times, this in spite of me trying to put as many cows between her and me as possible.  I could barely walk my legs were shaking so hard.

The fear that I had reserved for Mojo now became generalised to all cows with small calves.  As a result of this incident, being around cows with small calves became extremely uncomfortable to me.  I am a cattle farmer.  This is a problem.

So I tried to talk myself out of it.  While many cows have mock charged, none have ever made contact. (Except for that one time a young heifer took the gap that was actually our new French volunteer.  Her 250 kg weight sent Tudal flying into the air.  Luckily he is a rugby player and is used to this sort of behaviour.  The fact that he was still wearing his tourist backpack saved his back and our legal fees. Susie was immediately put on the cull list).

Being a dramatherapist I know that using my head (rationalising) is not going to resolve an experience lodged in the body.  (For some theoretical backup for this statement read Peter Levine: In an Unspoken Voice, How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness.)

My first step is to make friends with this fear and honour the wisdom it brings me.  Some behaviour change is necessary:  I make sure that I am not around cows and small calves with a dog (cow charges dog, dog hides behind human, cow charges human).

Considering that I am past 40 with two small children I don’t actually have to be the last line of defense between protective mother and calf being tagged. (My job is usually to wave a stick in the face of the mom trying to get to her calf.  This is because I am not so good at wrestling said calf to the ground as the other staff).

On the other hand, the daily checking on pregnant cows is something I love to do.  Its an important way to keep an eye on the health of the cattle and the state of the veld and water supply.  Its also an excellent excuse to get some peace and quiet!  This is not something I am prepared to give up.

After the incident with Susie I was looking for reasons to delegate the task of checking the cattle, and when I did go I would give lots of extra personal space to cows that looked at me funny.  (Since her eyes are so widely spaced, she watches you with her whole head, all 500 kgs of her.) A cows face is the perfect place onto which to project feelings.  You try.  Are these cows cross or not?

I was allowing the fear to take away something that I love and need to do. The fear also radiated off me and made me much more likely to be charged by a panicky cow … thus constantly reinforcing the fear.

It was time to practice on myself what I do with others: work with the fear in my body.  Tracking and releasing it.  I have to give it time… patience and kindness (to myself) are really critical.  I have to trust that if I am gentle and honest with myself the transformation will take place in the time it takes.  I will never return to my original relationship with cows.

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But I will find a new way of being that is wise and conscious.

Mojo is getting old now.  Perhaps its time to feed him his favourite snack!

P.S In my work as a dramatherapist I am very familiar with how fear can impact on a person’s quality of life.  In fact, a large majority of suffering of us humans is caused by fear (fear of judgement, fear of failure, fear of being hurt, fear of people that are different, fear of being different, fear of abandonment) based in a real experience that may be lodged so far back in our past that we no longer remember it.

Most people that live in this country can relate a traumatic incident (or few) that they experienced.  Many have changed their lives as a result of this incident. Working through the fear can feel too challenging to take on and it seems simpler just to stop doing the things that trigger the fear – even if they are things we love.   I know that if you don’t work with the fear it will never go away.  Mojo and Susie have taught me compassion and patience when working with others who are held back by their fears.

Come to Reconnect: Essence 1 -4 December 2016 to find out more.

Glossary of terms for Townies

Cow: a mother that has been pregnant (even if she didn’t carry the calf to full term).

Heifer: virgin or first time pregnant female

Bull: un-castrated male (by the way, there is no connection between horns and gender).

Steers (we call them by the Afrikaans name Tollies): castrated bull.  We castrate all our male calves so they don’t mate with their moms and sisters.  We buy our bulls from other breeders.

Tagging: We put an ear tag on new calves so that we know who their mother is.  At the same time we also do castration if necessary and clip the ear with a year specific clip.  This usually takes place a few weeks after birth.

Lettuce for Mojo

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