How a prize bull changed farmer Kate’s life
She’s trained thousands of medical and dental students in Sheffield. She’s worked with porters and consultants in city hospitals. So how did Kate McNeil end up running a cattle farm?
The answer is a bull called Boxster who changed Kate’s life and is the subject of her book, Boxy and Me.
The 47-year-old, who is married to Andrew, caused a media storm when she challenged a court ruling ordering Boxster to be put down.
The case, which has parallels to Geronimo the alpaca, was contested because Kate did not believe the test results showing Boxster had bovine tuberculosis were accurate.
Together in the show ring they were an unbeatable team and Kate won the battle in the High Court to save him from slaughter, unmasking what appeared to have been a cover-up to a botched test in a government department.
She says the media lost interest following the verdict so wrote a book called Boxster’s Story because people kept asking her what had happened.
That was 2012. She was still working in the NHS as an operating practitioner, which she had trained for at Lodge Moor Hospital, Sheffield, before teaching in hospitals such as the Hallamshire.
Boxster was her dad’s bull and cattle showman Ken Jackson had no idea how important this bull would become.
The legal victory was just the beginning, as Boxy and Me reveals what happened next.
“We did this because the story is complete. What happened after the case changed our lives and it is all down to Boxy,” says Kate.
After the court case, she became ill. Kate suffers from fibromyalgia, which causes pain all over the body, and it was aggravated by the stress of the case. “It hit me hard afterwards, I had to take it easy and work part-time.
“I had trained whole teams, I would go to the Hallamshire hospital onto a ward and set up a mannequin in a corner to recreate scenarios they could be faced with. They as a team would work to rectify what was wrong and we filmed them and briefed them.
“After the court case, everything went wrong with work. I can’t discuss it because I’ve signed a disclosure order but basically I felt discriminated against.”
It was tough, this was what she’s trained for but the court case had drained her. “I was weak, I had no muscle strength, I was struggling to get out of bed.
“I’d had a big battle with the bull, then the NHS and it hit my body hardest. I felt like I had been run over.”
She needed hydrotherapy. Kate also needed a purpose and decided to get three cows to pair with Boxster at her dad’s farm in Walden Stubbs, Doncaster.
“They became my physio. I had to get up and feed him and his girls. They helped me to rebuild my strength. I had to get up and do it, no matter how tired I was, they relied on me.
“Just being there, stroking them, hearing him enjoy his food so much. It was uplifting.
“It didn’t matter how bad my day was, Boxy made me smile.
“I’d always loved animals, but the bond I had with him was different. He would leave whatever he was doing to come to me. He made a noise like cooing and to have this animal show me so much love got me back on my feet. He gave me a new direction.”
Kate and Andrew, who have a son Patrick, wanted to get their own farm and work on it together.
“We both decided life was too short to not do what we wanted so Andrew closed his business to give him more time with me and the animals.”
The search for a farm ended in Haywood, near Askern, where they have now been for five years. Guess who helped?
“We only got this place because of Boxster,” says Kate, as once again the bull shaped her decisions.
“We looked at lots of different places and this was the last on the list. I didn’t think it was for us because it was a stud farm for horses.
“When we got here, it was clear the owner didn’t want to sell, pointing out all the faults, we just wanted to leave.
“As I was getting in the car, she said ‘I recognise you.’ We went through the hospitals but it wasn’t that. Then she said ‘You’re Boxster’s mum!’ She changed immediately.
“I invited her to meet him so she did and a few weeks later she rang me to say thank you. I’d had bad news because Boxster would have to leave the field he’d been in so she offered me her field for free.
“We would go every day and got to know her, we even had a chair at her table! Now it’s ours and it’s perfect but it wouldn’t have happened without Boxster.”
She and Andrew have a pedigree herd of British Blonde cattle sired by Boxster, but those days looked numbered when he slipped a disc and was paralysed.
Thanks to daily massages from Kate and herbal medicine he got back on his feet and carried on working for another three years. “This is the story of an amazing animal – and how he changed my life,” says Kate.
“I love musical theatre and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘Love Never Dies’ is my all-time favourite song. It’s how I feel about Boxy.”
Two years ago, came Kate’s toughest moment. Boxster was suffering with arthritis and it became clear he couldn’t carry on. He was put to sleep in a passing planned by Kate to help her come to terms with it.
“We planned it and arranged it,” she said. “He was struggling every winter and I was terrified that one day I would go out and find him where he couldn’t get up.
“He was my soulmate. Even when he was put to sleep it was controlled and he helped me come to terms with it.
“I had his ashes by my chair for three months because I’d always wanted him in the house.
“I still miss him every time I go across to our cattle shed. I loved Boxy while he was alive and I still love him now.”
No wonder after they fought so many battles together.
“Hallmark Boxster – Boxy – was more than just a bull" she said. “It was his spirit, battling through everything thrown at him, that I will always remember with a tear never far from my eyes and a smile in my heart.
“Boxy’s life was a constant struggle of overcoming massive hurdles. I’ve had many thrown my way too. Perhaps that was one of the reasons we had such a connection. I’ve never experienced the same with any other animal. Our bond was and always will remain very special.”
It is a relief to know that Boxy and Me ends well as Kate says: “It is happy because now I am in a good place, credit to him.”
For more details visit Kate’s Facebook page Boxy and Me. The book is written with Chris Berry and is published by Great Northern Books in paperback at £9.99.