We had four cows for most of my childhood. When old age got the better of one of the cows, the other three carried the load until a designated heifer, ‘the makings of a cow’, calved, and took up her position in the four-cow byre.
The cows of those years seemed so quiet and easy-going. Either of my parents – and us children in due course, could get down on our ‘hunkers’ and milk a cow standing in the yard, field – or even the edge of the road. Each cow was different, with individual personalities that we all came to accept – and they were all known by their first names!
I am currently a ‘born again’ farmer … ‘scratching an itch’ you might say. My small Dexter cattle enterprise is by way of hobby farming and it brings back many memories from the distant pass.
Last week when a heifer pushed open a yard gate, I heard myself referring to her as a ‘rogue’ and memories came flooding back of the ‘rogue’ of my childhood.
No boundary fence could hold ‘The Rogue’. She could be found in Harris’s meadow, Reilly’s turnips, or Forde’s field of kale. The world was Rogue’s oyster and she roamed it at will. We didn’t have great fences – but that wouldn’t make any difference. And Rogue was a swimmer to boot.
The river was just a slight obstacle between her and a tasty morsel on the other bank. I heard Tom Forde ask Daddy one evening, “Where did she get out?” (This was after Rogue had feasted on Tom’s pit of mangolds). “Anywhere she liked, between here and the Deel” (a quarter mile) replied Daddy.
My father wasn’t known for his patience and Rogue caused him much ‘suffering.’ He never referred to her as anything other than, “the hoor of a rogue!’ When I think of it now, I marvel at how patient and understanding were our neighbours. I guess they knew and accepted that this cow was ‘nothing but a hoor of a rogue!’
Daddy was a ‘carter’ with Westmeath County Council. This meant that he was hired, plus his horse and cart to move gravel from the sand-pits and tip it in piles along the side of the road for the workmen to fill pot-holes. This was heavy work – especially for the horse!
We owned a Clydsdale draught mare called ‘Judy’. Judy was a magnificent animal, and her strength was immense. Da often complained that Westmeath County Council paid Judy more than they paid him. I figured that he had no reason to complain, as he was the one who controlled Judy’s wage!
Because she worked so hard, Judy had to be very well fed. The cleanest hay was kept for Judy and she also got a ration of crushed oats twice a day. Da bought the oats in small quantities – a bag at a time and the biggest job was ensuring that nothing else got near the oats … as in a cow called Rogue!
The small horse-stable didn’t have a great door on it. Near dark one evening, Daddy put Judy into the stable, and fed her half the bucket of oats. He placed the remaining half-full bucket up high on a stone ledge near the rafters. This was to be Judy’s breakfast.
As Da was pulling the door closed behind him, Rogue and he made eye-contact across the paling. He got his retaliation in first by setting Rover on ‘The Red Hoor’. Da had a bad feeling about the oats, so he went across the road and lifted a wooden gate from its hinges.
As darkness fell, the gate was dragged back to be secured in front of the stable door. Too late! By the time he hauled over the gate, Rogue was on her way out of the stable – with the empty oat bucket on the floor!
Rogue would ‘neither lead nor drive’. Everything was on her terms. If you gave her a tip of an ash plant; she would just turn around and look at you with those big liquid eyes, as much as to say; ‘now what would you be doing that for?’
When you are a child and a cow has been around for a long time; you think she was always there and will forever be a part of our lives.
One day when we got home from school, Rogue was gone. Mammy said that we sold her to a poor woman who needed milk for her children. This was some consolation – though later, I did come around to thinking there was something ominous in the fact that she went off in a lorry with other cattle.
We boys should have been pleased – but somehow I wasn’t. I expected that Rogue would take a notion some day and come back to us. For a long while, I checked every morning, but Rogue never came home.
Don’t Forget…..Sometimes the easiest thing to find is fault.