Growing up on a farm, you get used to death. Seemingly healthy calves fall away to nothing and die from something as simple as having a bad dose of the shits. A cow sits down to push out a calf and only gets back up when the hydraulic arm of John Greene’s truck hoists her dead carcass high and tosses her on top of other dead animals. He accidentally drops her on her back and you watch the truck roll away with two of her legs sticking out over the side of the truck. The smell of death slowly dissipates and you get on with your life.
When I recount stories like this, I always assign myself the arbitrary age of six. I don’t see why this story should be any different. It must have been the most action-packed year of my life.
When I was six, we had a calf that was dying. A freisian bull, he was worth fuck all to anyone or anything. He certainly wasn’t worth enough for the aul’ lad to put any time or effort into. I was six and knew how the world worked enough to know that I could exploit this chance to make some money – but not old enough to know how much my time and devotion were worth, or that this animal was highly likely to die before I saw a penny.
I sat down at the negotiation (kitchen) table with my father and managed to broker a one-pound-per-week deal to care for this sick calf, hereafter to be referred to as Pinky Nose. I was delighted with myself, not just for the nickname but for the steady stream of income I had arranged for my young self. Twice a day every single day, I would visit Pinky Nose in his shed. I definitely thought he was a she at the time but I don’t think he took much offense as we did not share a common vernacular.
I kept a bag of Kalf Krunch outside his shed, covered over with an upside-down plastic water trough to protect from rain. From this, I would feed him a handful every day. I also filled a bucket of water in the dairy and carried that out to him, wearing half of the water myself and absolutely soaking two different pairs of pants every day in the process. Finally, I made sure he had enough straw to lie on. This I did twice a day every week. That is 14 times a week for one fucking pound. Adjusting for inflation, that is €1.98 today.
It was very hairy at the beginning but as the weeks wore on, Pinky Nose slowly began to improve and I spent more time just lying on his straw, shooting the shit with him and seeing how he was doing. He wasn’t much of a talker but I didn’t mind too much. There were definitely a few times in the early days where I failed to make the evening visit to him – usually on a Sunday – and I fully expected to begin my week with a death on my conscience.
I obviously lied to my father about missing these check-ins. He probably knew since the football matches he brought me to were the reason for the missed visits. I would apologize to Pinky Nose but he cared less about the content of my character and more about the contents of my buckets. Looking back I also have the sneaking suspicion that my father was silently filling in for my missed check-ins and knew just how well Pinky Nose was doing all along.
Eventually, he was eating his crunch out of my hand and I started to bring him silage. His water bucket would now be empty when I would arrive in the morning and again in the evening. After almost sixteen weeks (I choose that period of time because Bryan Adams had a number one song in Ireland for that long a few years earlier – but it was probably more like a month), we decided Pinky Nose was ready to rejoin wider society and no longer required solitary confinement. I like to remember it like a scene from one of those movies where an elephant is released back into the wild but embraces the human until the human starts crying and yells and it to go away even though that’s the last thing either one wants. In truth, I probably turned up to Pinky Nose’s shed one morning and he wasn’t there because the aul lad probably let him out and forgot to tell me.
The miracle was complete and I had saved his life for the princely sum of sixteen (probably actually four) pounds. I had already spent every penny on sweets but I was delighted with my achievement. The world was a wonderful place full of sunshine and rainbows and cute little calves with adorable pink noses frolicking free around green pastures in East Galway.
A couple of years later, a man called Big Mike backed his truck into our yard and rolled down the cattle ramp. It was actually a different neighbor with a cattle truck but there’s no chance Big Mike’s kids read this blog. Any time there was a visitor to the farm, I liked to showcase my amazing ball skills, curling a soccer ball through the door of the dairy from twenty yards. I had a strike rate of about 2.6% but when that ball went in, it was absolute euphoria, followed immediately by the worry of “Oh fuck, I hope it didn’t break anything in the dairy.” I wandered over to where Big Mike and my father were chatting amicably.
“You said you’d have 8 for me but I have room for 10 if you need it. You look like you have more than 10 here,” Big Mike looked bemused. We had spent the morning moving the cattle from Carrowkeel to the main farm, and were going to run them back to Noone’s later in the day. I saw Pinky Nose stick his head up over the bars of the crush pin, sandwiched between two other bullocks. He had matured into a fine animal and rivaled many of his peers at this point. Over the past couple of years, I marveled at the animal he had become. He always made a beeline for me when we shared the same field. I took a minute to be proud of my work in saving his life.
Turning around, I realized my father and Big Mike were behind me and were discussing grading of bullocks. This was a language that was still almost foreign to me, but my ears pricked up when Mike mentioned “the fella with the pink nose.” I’m not sure if it was because I was eight (time had passed) and didn’t realize that the world was full of pain and misery, or if I was just a moron child but it never occurred to me why Big Mike was there that day. I knew what he did for work and I knew why his lorry was in our yard. I knew where his lorry ended up at the end of the day and that the animals that got on today would never be seen again.
I just never thought that Pinky Nose would be one of those. Why the fuck had I put so much of my little life into saving him just to go and kill him two years later? This is so fucking stupid. Why would we do this? You can’t be serious? I was sobbing. This makes no sense. It’s Pinky Nose! IT’S PINKY NOSE! You’re just going to kill him for the sake of some money? Why would you do that?
My outrage was completely real and my view of the world was forever skewed on that day, but after my initial insanity had subsided a little, a new burning anger arose inside me. I had poured my tiny heart and soul into saving this animals life. I had visited, fed, watered, and changed his bedding over a hundred times and all I got for it was sixteen (actually four) fucking pounds. Surely I deserved a cut of whatever my father was going make for him now? If my friend was going to get killed and people were going to make money from it, I should be one of them.
When people ask me why we don’t have a dog yet, I think of Pinky Nose. I think of a hundred other stories I have about cows and calves and hens and puppies and kittens, and even one poor hedgehog who came to our door looking for food and died the next day. I wasn’t born in a place where your animals sleep in the bed beside you – although I vividly remember one lady who let calves roam around her shit-covered house.
All the animals I knew were born into a world of piss and shit and blood, and they left the farm in one of two lorries – John Greene’s or Big Mike’s. Some of the aforementioned animals met their fate under the wheel of a third lorry. I remember a little puppy who was run over by the milkman and a kitten who was run over by the same milkman. I remember another puppy who died after getting hit by a basketball. That basketball in turn was also run over by that same reckless (and feckless) milkman.
I love animals and was surrounded by them for my entire childhood. They’ve provided me with some of my greatest and most painful memories. There is a dog currently residing in Ballinastack who likes to eat turf, get run over by moving vehicles, and generally make a nuisance of himself. He even humped my leg to completion once. My brothers love him and I feel like Ben Wyatt with Lil Sebastian. Maybe he’s just a moron dog and they’re trolling me, or maybe I have lost the ability to love any animal after being hurt so many times in the past.