‘This year we’re too broke to take our cattle to the show,’ I told Mark. For six months we had been preparing the show string, training our Borans to stand correctly, to walk well, squandering money on feed, brass nose rings and fancy halter ropes. As the big day loomed I looked at the costs of the lorry to Nairobi and all those expenses in town, and I knew we could not afford it. The bullets are no longer flying in Laikipia but after all the dramas on the farm in recent years we are skint. My tyres are bald, the soles of my boots are falling off. I had such a lovely mob of six heifers ready to go — feminine, structured, big bellied with muscling over the top. It was a tough moment for all the stockmen on the farm when I decided they would be staying at home.
My neighbour Mark has long been my mentor on cattle. With his grass green eyes and bulldog head, he does not much look like the sort of cattleman who lets drought or misfortunes spoil his day. In blistering language he expressed his disgust at my behaviour. ‘It’s time to raise your game,’ he said — and then he slung my two young bulls he had helped prepare for the show, the red 1614 and the black 1627, onto his lorries heading to Nairobi’s Jamhuri Park. In return for many favours Mark has rarely asked for anything other than friendship — and loyalty to the things he values such as cattle shows. I felt I had to go along with this.
For 15 years I have devoted love and countless hours to my Borans, building up a stud herd from three old cows Claire had given me as a birthday present. Mark calls this all-Kenyan beef breed ‘God’s gift to cattlemen’. The finest of all Africa’s zebus — they are hardy, fertile, docile, mothering, fleshy. It is a sight to see a Boran bull with his flanks shimmering, his eyes under a thick browed head barnacled with mud, pursing his great lips to snuff at the cows he bellows after, his javelin pizzle quivering in its sheath and dark testicles swinging.
On show day I realised Mark had done me a big favour. Since the last show we had lost four top Boran breeders: my friend George Aggett, mortally injured in a plane crash; Tristan Vorspuy, shot dead on his farm in last year’s invasions; Gilfrid Powys, killed by an elephant at Christmas; and David Stanley, the only one of four to die peacefully in old age. Yet here were all the ranchers, shrugging off the troubles of recent years and appearing with show strings of superb beasts. Two of our cowhands, Erupe and Daniel, had travelled down with our bulls, and from inside our little pen as we looked around at the signs of the big studs we felt very nervous. Here were the world-famous Boran ranches like Ol Pejeta, Suyian, Sosian, Solio, Stanley & Son and Mark’s own Woragus herd.
In the show ring I immediately realised that our mob of six heifers might have done very well had they made it here. As for our bulls, they were small and overshadowed by the competition in their class. I worried our bulls were not wide or deep enough, they lacked muscling, their humps were too forward, their dewlaps and pizzle sheaths were too loose and they were not as well grown as they should be.
As the judge came into the ring I knew there was nothing for it. I raised my eyes skywards and silently promised Him that if I avoided total humiliation, I would not touch a drop of alcohol again — for a year, let’s say. Round and round the bulls went, with the judge weeding them out one by one. My eyes were screwed tight shut when I heard the judge say the winner was ‘masculine, he’s got breed character, he’s deep-bodied, well-muscled, and he’s the soundest on his feet and legs. He gets out and moves athletically, tidy sheath, good testicle size and shape, he’s wide, got some chest floor — if there’s a herd bull in here it’s going to be him… he puts it all together.’ I opened my eyes to see he was talking about our red bull 1614 — and our black youngster won third prize. We are still broke, but my Borans give me great pleasure — and Mark was happy too, winning seven out of 11 trophies at the show. I must confess that I celebrated with a Tusker beer.