Opening moves: Getting things wrong in the field

It’s been a very busy week, with lots of interesting things happening at Partido de Resina. However, the most important thing I have observed and learned about this week is not how newborn calves are caught and tagged.

A calf born this morning, its mother unwilling to relenquish her new charge for tagging.

A calf born this morning, its mother unwilling to relinquish her new charge for tagging. Excuse the poor quality photo, I’ve a camera on the way, but this was taken on my phone from a moving 4×4.

Nor was it how the horns of young bulls are sheathed to prevent injuries in the field.

A young bull of the 2010 generation in the stocks to have his horns wrapped.

A young bull of the 2010 generation in the stocks to have his horns wrapped.

Nor was it the testing of another young bull in an informal event on the ranch.

Young bullfighter meets young bull in the plaza at Partido de Resina.

Young bullfighter meets young bull in the plaza at Partido de Resina.

Rather, my abiding memory of the week is of getting gates wrong: going to the wrong gate, getting gates jammed, mistiming things, causing animals to get stuck and most of all just being too darn slow! Opening and closing gates might seem like a simple thing compared to all the other things that occur on bull-breeding estates, but they’re surprisingly tricky. To get the bulls into the stocks or the arena, or to separate different lots of animals, they must come into the corrals, which is a complex of pens with gates that can be opened and closed from walkways above. The bulls, cows or castrated animals will try to stay together and rush through gateways, closely packed, horns clipping the walls and each other. The potential for injuries or even just damage to the horns is enormous and a badly timed slamming of a door could be very costly.

Bovines rushing through a gateway. The large red animals are not fighting stock and are castrated - they make it easier to move the bulls as they are somewhat more biddable and the bulls will generally follow them in 'herd-mode'.

Bovines rushing through a gateway. The large red animals are not fighting stock and are castrated – they make it easier to move the bulls as they are somewhat more biddable and the bulls will generally follow them in ‘herd-mode’.

The foreman (mayoral), watching a bull below closely to judge the best moment to open the door and allow the animal to move through.

The foreman (mayoral), watching a bull below closely to judge the best moment to open the door and allow the animal to move through.

The man in charge of all this is the mayoral, who over the last week has managed a motley array of seasoned vaqueros (stock-handlers), local and more distant friends and aficionados (~fans) who come and help out or just to see the bulls, and a keen but clumsy anthropologist. The mayoral must deal with my mistakes and those of others, and also make sure we know what to do the next time. Mayorals are certainly not unsung heroes in the world of the bulls, but they’re not the centre of attention either and the work they do must be incredibly stressful. Definitely worthy of a salute with the obligatory flat-cap. Hopefully in the coming weeks and months I’ll learn to judge the appropriate moment to open or close a gate, or even get the right gate at the right time like a proper vaquero. With that, I’ll also hopefully begin to get a feel for the way the corrals and the wider estate have been built or moulded over time through interactions with fighting stock, who in turn grow up in and are moulded by this environment.

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