Red Poll bull, Bredfield Nathan, 1926

An excerpt taken from "The Spacious Days" by Michael F. Twist

The big excitement was the forcoming arrival of a Red Poll bull, Bredfield Nathan. He was no ordinary bull, for he was one of the top sires in the breed, and had also attained great success in the show-ring. But what made him particularly interesting to a small boy was the fact that he had nearly killed the herdsman who looked after him and had left the poor man crippled for life. Father heard that Nathan, because of his misdeeds, was to be slaughtered. After a quick consultation with Fred, an offer was made for Nathan; twice his meat value plus the cost of transport, providing his current owner would arrange delivery to Britwell. This was accepted and a new loose-box was hastily constructed. It had an entrance either end and a sliding door to divide it, worked by pulleys from the outside, so that the occupant could be shut in whichever section was desired. There was even a small hatch over the feeding trough, so at no time would it be necessary for anyone to enter the box.

The new bull-box was complete and the day of Nathan’s arrival fixed. In those days the transportation by road of around one ton of bull from near Woodbridge in Suffolk to South Bucks was, in itself, something of an achievement. At last he arrived. My excitement was intense. I took up my position in a wagon, from where I would be able to see straight into the lorry when the ramp was down. As this happened the noise, half bellow, half roar, that came from the inmate was spine chilling. I had never heard such fury! Father and Fred were master-minding the unloading, aided by about ten men.

There seemed to be a confusion of ropes, then suddenly, with a tremendous bellow, Nathan was out. The plan was that there should be five men on each rope, one well out on either side,, so that he could not get at anyone. However, Nathan’s sudden descent had caught the ‘leaders’ off their guard. There was only one on each rope, albeit for just a matter of seconds, but that was long enough! With an almighty bellow he charged blindly, crashing into the rear wheel of the wagon in which I sat, rocking it and half turning it as he did so. He raised his head and we were virtually eyeball to eyeball. Never before, or since, have I seen such venom and hate in an animal’s eyes. Hesitantly I reached out and touched his head. I don’t remember feeling fear, just a strange magnetism towards this magnificent creature. The ‘leaders’ had by then got themselves organised and Nathan was manoeuvred towards his new home.

Later, when he was safely ensconced and all was quiet, I asked Fred if I could get Nathan some food. The answer was in the affirmative and I rushed off for a large scoop of meal and several handfuls of linseed cake. I slid back the feeding hatch and looked in. Nathan was in the further section, pawing the ground and sending straw flying into the air. I called him. With a snort he turned and came lumbering up to the hatch, grumbling as he did so. I held out some linseed cake and, after a moment’s uncertainty, a big rough tongue scooped it off my hand. I fed him the rest and then emptied the feed I had brought into his trough, talking to him while he was eating and for some while after he had finished. Slowly the hate went out of his eyes. Suddenly his great rough tongue came out and liked my arm as I leant against the hatch. It was like being rubbed with wet sandpaper! I was delighted. I turned to Fred, who had been standing nearby, quietly watching.

“He’s lovely. I know we’ll be friends. I don’t think he’s as bad as he’s made out to be.”

“You’re probably right, but don’t forget he’s not Quartz. We mustn’t take any risks and it’ll take a long, long time to get him round.”

I went home to lunch elated. I had a new friend and Fred had said ‘we’. That meant that I was involved in Nathan’s future.

The following year passed all too rapidly. I worked hard at my lessons and gloried in my afternoons at the farm. I had little interest in toys, except my model farm, and read avidly anything I could get my hands on connected with cattle. Life was good. Nathan was becoming more and more appeased and Fred could now enter his loose-box without first attracting him to the hatch with food and tying him up. I regularly groomed him when secured, standing on a bucket so that I could reach the top of his shoulders. Once, when Nathan lowered his head, I stepped off this and sat astride his neck, rather like a mahout. All he did was raise his head, lifting me high in the air, and continue chewing the cud. Fred, who was mucking out the further section, was not amused. He removed me from my lofty perch and, rightly, severely reprimanded me.

A bit about "The Spacious Days"

This account of growing up on an estate at Burnham in Buckinghamshire in the 1920s and ‘30s recalls an agriculture in which there was a large labour force, time to do a job well and time to talk, chaff and enjoy a bit of shooting.

There are tales about real people and real places providing an insight into days long gone when a caring relationship and natural balance still existed between man and nature. Indeed, for the author, nature in the form of pet foxes, stoats, squirrels and badgers was an intimate part of home life.

From his earliest days Michael Twist knew he wanted to be an estate manager like his father. He revelled in his world of Hampshire Down sheep, Berkshire pigs and cattle. He chased poachers, controlled vermin and helped at haytime and harvest. Above all he grew up to have an abiding love of the countryside and its inhabitants.

Farming Press Books

Taken from Newletter No. 110, Spring 2018

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