Delemand the Bull

Why should you buy my next Steam Highwayman adventure (when it’s finished)? Because you get to participate in a cattle auction!

Delemand the bull is one of my favourite sequences in The Princes of the West. It’s one of those stories that has swollen to fill twenty passages or more without even testing me. You can hear a rumour in one of several pubs about a farmer forced to sell his prize bull to pay his taxes… and then take it from there. Go see Ralph Chambercombe for yourself and try to help him out? Head to the cattle market and watch the auction? Bid for the bull yourself and squander your hard-won, er, hard-stolen cash on a pedigree breeder that you can have absolutely no use for and then use him to terrorise those who deserve it?

Gateridge Blackjack X545, 3-year-old pedigree Aberdeen Angus sold by JA & PE Dickinson of Market Harborough at Melton Mowbray Market Cattle Auction, 28th February 2024

There was an oversize bull in Cities of Gold and Glory, my favourite of the Fabled Lands books, famous for his massive stamina and the hilarious response of the farmer should you ever defeat the bull in battle. Was there even a Russ Nicholson illustration? (Just checked, and, yes there was, and the original brief by Dave Morris has been recorded too. Can’t find my copy though, so any really keen reader is super-welcome to add one in a comment.)

When I was twenty-two and qualified as a teacher, but yet to accept a paid position, I spent about six months on the dole in north Leicestershire. I went to collect my weekly benefit from Melton Mowbray Job Centre, on a Wednesday. Which was market day. And market day in Melton Mowbray is still a real market. One week, I went into the cattle auction, and watched as the followers of a dairy herd were sold off, some at bargain prices that I still remember. And then the final sale – the bull.

He was an Aberdeen Angus, as many dairy bulls are. His calves by all the various mothers are of secondary value to the milk they demand, but as Friesian/Angus crosses, their carcasses have more meat and are worth more. Although this was fifteen years hence, and I understand that there have been a few changes in dairying since.

Anyway, I had been helping a neighbour pasture and stall her fourteen Angus in the previous months, including one tragically short-lived but very highly-bred (inbred) young bull we called Ebenezer. My neighbour, Anne, needed a name beginning with E to match the pedigree line, and I suggested Ebenezer because I had got into cattle after she asked my dad if he could spare a son for a short while every day for three weeks to help a calf stand and relearn to walk. He had been born weak and then caught a cold and was shuffling around his stall with his rear legs extended and his front bent – essentially scraping through the straw on his knees. Anne had had one of her own knees replaced recently and the other was due for surgery, so she wasn’t really up for lifting a forty-kilo calf to its feet. So that was my job over Easter.

Sadly, Ebenezer, though genetically valuable, was a high-risk investment. His inbreeding had weakened him and when he was autopsied, the cow coroner discovered that he had not enough stomachs, and thus had never managed to gain enough nourishment after weaning. Poor thing.

The bull I saw sold at Melton Mowbray sold for a colossal amount of money. I saw a Jersey cow and her calf sold for £700 together a short while before, but the bull made something like £100,000.