idiotic cowbell

In the mid-1960s, Anton bought four highly-bred Jersey cattle – three heifers and a bull. The cows were given names like Daisy and Buttercup, and the prize bull was called Romeo. They were to be the core of a breeding project, and, within a few years, Malthusian mathematics predicted that there would be a large and thriving herd. Malthus made various predictions about human and equine populations that have turned out to seem almost idiotically simplistic.

The White River area was not a cattle area, perhaps because of the pervasive heat, the multitude of pests and diseases that flourish in that area, or the memories of tsetse-fly and rinderpest always lurking in the background. Certainly there were no herds of black-and-white Dutch cows like those my uncle Dave had on Rudolf’s Hoek, where electric milking machines delivered gallons and gallons of milk. The smaller Jerseys were considered hardier and better suited to the area, but the memory I have of that incipient herd is not one of success in the form of fountains of milk. They brought with them a succession of veterinary encounters, and Anton’s office became a repository of veterinary medicines and texts.

Anton put a cowbell around Daisy’s neck and a ring through Romeo’s nose. For a while they looked and behaved exactly as they were supposed to: the cows gave more than enough milk for a family, but less than enough for profit. Romeo had a suitably roguish look, tore up sods with his hoofs and proved intractable. Once, when he was refusing to co-operate with whatever was required of him, perhaps to enter a pen, Anton lost his temper, grabbed Romeo’s new horns and gave such a mighty twist that the bull fell onto his side. Not long after that, browsing in a field below the canal that had been an orchard in Hopper’s time, Romeo was bitten by a mamba. It got him on the leg, and his great bull heart quickly and efficiently distributed the poison throughout his body, killing him in about ten minutes. After that, the herd was eaten or sold off.


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