Aidan Hartley Aidan Hartley

Wild life | 22 September 2016

A good bloodline of Boran beef cattle is the finest legacy a man can bequeath


  For a rancher north of Mount Kenya, a man’s best legacy might be a good bloodline of Boran beef cattle. For years I wanted to buy a bull from George Aggett. His Borans are wide and deep and they are natural polls, that is, they are born hornless. George’s grandfather settled on the Laikipia plateau in 1920 and for nearly 100 years the Aggetts had kept almost a closed herd. I heard they never, ever sold bulls, and so it took me a long time to pluck up courage to approach George, an ex-Royal Marine with steely eyes and a fighter’s frame. When we acquired our first few cows a long time ago, the craggy man who sold them to us observed (and it was not a question), ‘You’re not a proper farmer.’ Fifteen years later I’m just about tolerated by other ranchers. Good advice is what a learner like me needs most and it’s hard to come by out here. George, it turned out, was generous. After the Marines he had flown Boeings for Kenya Airways, and when he retired from that to come home to the family farm, he still loved flying in his Cessna 210. One day he landed on the dusty airstrip above the house, looked at a mob of my aspiring young bulls and said, ‘Nothing special here. Castrate them.’ All except two, which he advised I take to the Livestock Breeders’ Show in Nairobi. Then, without me having to ask him, he invited me over to look at his own cattle. On George’s farm, I saw everywhere the signs of hard toil and investment across three generations. Before the last world war his grandfather had built wonderful dams using teams of oxen. His father Clive had excavated a vast 57-acre dam with just his own small tractor, taking two entire years to complete it.

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