When the cows come home


The cows were lined up by the fence as I drove to a halt by the stop sign and orange traffic cones. Lovely chunky brown and white ones with thick white curls on their foreheads.

They were curious, and interested… this small hiccup on the road was a break in the monotony of their lives in a field hemmed in by fences. Back in the mists of time they would have roamed free, grazing, not just on boring green grass, but also on a variety of herbs and other grasses they were drawn to in order to maintain their good health. They reminded me of when I was staying with my best friend in the Forest of Dean in England. We were crossing a field to get to the Forest for a long walk.

The notes of a flute floated across the meadow, and then we saw a ring of cows –in fact every cow in the vicinity – gathered around the tree from whence came the music. Black Friesians. A man was sitting in the tree playing to them… a delicious eccentric – and after an intriguing exchange – my friend was mystified by the idea of a man playing music to cows, we carried on down to the Forest. I was fascinated… the cows confirmed all I had ever wondered about them. They were so curious and fascinated themselves, they couldn’t tear themselves away from the tree and the new sounds.

The definition of curiosity is a desire to learn and acquire knowledge… and how often do we credit cows with these qualities? When we want to describe someone disparagingly, who is slow, we call them bovine, and the dictionary definition of this word is being ‘slow and un-intelligent like cows and cattle.’

I think of the Welsh farmer who was gored by his bull, and fell to the ground unconscious, his leg broken. When he recovered consciousness, all his cows were spaced in a ring around him, protecting him from further attacks. As he began to drag himself to the gate at the edge of the field, his cows moved with him, keeping him safe. Faced with an emergency they had never encountered before, they solved it efficiently and cooperatively. What an example of goodness, intelligence, and can I say it – humanity? We credit mankind with humanity as though it was something unique to mankind… though sometimes one wonders what has happened to humanity in today’s world.

The dictionary defines humanity as having the qualities of compassion, brotherly love, kindness, understanding, consideration, mercy, generosity, sympathy, goodness… I find that all these words could be applied to the actions of these cows in protecting their owner… plus two more, intelligence and imagination.

In New Zealand we have an annual country custom called calf club day. Every year a child on a farm is given a lamb or a calf to nurture and train, and on calf club day they all bring their pet lamb or calf to school, and parade them and they are judged – most obedient, prettiest etc. When I was asked to judge, I couldn’t and gave everyone a ribbon … and then the next day, life is turned on its head for these gently reared and nurtured creatures.

The lambs go off to market in a trailer to be sold and eaten, the calves get turned out into the field with all the others. Once as we walked past a herd of jerseys grazing peacefully, admiring their long lashes and silky coats, one of them broke away from the herd, and ran towards us. As we talked to her and stroked her, we sighed – someone’s pet calf we murmured.

And so, lonely, missing her childhood companion, she was doomed to the monotony and heartbreak of a cow’s life – doomed to breed and produce a calf every year, doomed to have it torn away from her within a few hours or days, doomed to give up her milk and live her life in boredom and sadness. The sound of a cow bellowing in anguish when her calf has been taken from her, and the pitiful cries of the calves as they get used to being parted are part of the nightmare of country life.

Not to mention the terrified male /bobby calves lying in crates by the farm gate waiting to be gathered up in a cattle truck and after long hours of being thrown around the truck, ending up at the meatworks… I haven’t been able to eat anything with gelatine ever since I discovered how we get it… much of it derived from the skin and bones of calves… and hidden even in products like yogurt to bulk it up and make it creamier.

This is the reality of modern farming many will say, and so it is…. and yet organic farmers show how it can be done differently, keeping calves with their mothers, and still getting milk from the cows. Remembering that cows are not milking machines, but intelligent, loving consciousnesses could make a difference perhaps to the lives of millions of creatures who share this planet with us… and who as sentient beings, need the same protection and consideration that all life deserves.

My heart stopped at the pictures the other day of a woman matador in the South of France, holding aloft in gleeful triumph the ears of the magnificent bull she had just killed in torment, its blood running down her hands. Killed in torment to give so-called humanity some fun…

Yes, creatures have a different consciousness to human beings, and yet also share many of the same emotions… but since we have established – in the words of the Bible – ‘dominion over all creatures’ so we also have the responsibility to make sure that life for the creatures who give us life, is not also hell on earth.

‘We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals’ wrote the great writer on the natural world, Henry Beston… ‘Remote from universal nature and living by complicated artifice, man in civilisation surveys the creature through his own knowledge… and the whole image in distortion. We patronise them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate in having taken form so far below ourselves.

‘And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow travellers of the splendour and the travail of the earth.’

Many years ago a group was formed in Wales, calling itself Women for Life on Earth… I like to think that we could all be un-official members of this wonderful sounding circle of goodness.

Food for threadbare gourmets

Sometimes I just need a quick and easy something to give guests at morning coffee time, or to cheer up a soup meal. These cheese muffins do the trick. I always have grated cheese ready in the deep freeze, so with a heaped cup of grated cheese, and another of self raising flour, I add a pinch of salt and cayenne pepper, and mix it all with one egg and three- quarters of a cup of warm milk. Spoon the mixture into greased muffin tins – I use tiny ones- and these take fifteen minutes in a 200 degree oven.

Food for thought

O servant, where dost thou seek Me?
Lo! I am beside thee.
I am neither in temple nor in mosque: I am neither in Kaaba nor in Kailash:
Neither am I in rites and ceremonies, nor in Yoga and renunciation.
If thou art a true seeker, thou shalt at once see Me: thou shalt meet Me in a moment of time.

Sufi poet Kabir, translated by Rabindranath Tagore


Filed under animals/pets, food, kabir, kindness intelligence, rabindranath tagore, spiritual

36 responses to “When the cows come home

  1. Great piece Valerie. Cows certainly have a bad name for being stupid which they most certainly are not. We once had to look after a small herd of cows and a couple of calves. Early one morning, one of the cows stood by the fence just under our bedroom window and bellowed over and over. It was clear something was very wrong. My partner went out and the cow lead him over to the steep creek bank. Her calf had become tangled in the undergrowth and was trapped. This cow knew she needed help to rescue her calf and had the sense to come and find us. I remember another cow who mourned for two weeks after she delivered a stillborn calf. Recently we watched a cow giving birth while another “midwife” cow looked on. When the calf was born the midwife cow moved in to help remove the birth sac, allowing the new mum time to eat. Apparently, on dairy farms where several calves are born at one time, this “women’s collective” is not unusual: a couple of cows “babysit” all the calves while the other cows graze. No-one can tell me that cows are stupid!


  2. Fellow travellers they are. There are a number of videos on youtube showing the way cows respond to love and affection. This is one I particularly like. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bhUgsyyIme4


  3. It’s funny that humanity, named for mankind is meant to show the finer feelings we have, kindness, caring towards others etc. Funny only because mankind is often the animal to show the least of these qualities in a world where he thinks himself King.He can rarely show his finer qualities to his own species never mind others.Either the definition needs to change or perhaps we seek a better word to display those qualities that every species is capable of. Those from the cattle protecting the Welsh farmer to those of dolphins who have been a friend to man for a long time despite his shallowness in allowing them to be killed by certain fishing nets.
    Maybe Animality would be better and man can see if he can live up to it.
    xxx Huge Hugs Valerie xxx


    • Lovely comment, David.. you’re so right… isn’t it interesting how many bloggers feel the same about things… part of the comradeship of the net which one never knows about until one enters that fascinating blogging world…
      Hugs to you too, David


  4. We can learn much from animals if we just took the time to observe. The comments above prove that. I had a dairy goat herd for ten years and found myself up against a multitude of “ignorance.” Goats are mistreated and get a bad rap, too. Like cows, they are everything but dumb. When they say a man’s best friend is a dog, it is for all those qualities and characteristics we wish were in all our friends. Once again, thought provoking piece, Valarie.


    • Thank you Lynne… I love goats too, they are so sensitive,intelligent and full of character… I’ve loved quite a few ‘ little darlings’ – as their owners called them -, in my time here..


  5. Nice post.
    Recalled a time when I was visiting the Taj Mahal, some 50 years ago. One evening I was waiting for the sunset, and behind the place there was this slope, a small stream at the bottom, and I saw this line of cows, single file, nose to tail, a dozen or so, coming home, all by themselves. It was a lovely thing to see. So peaceful.


  6. A wonderful piece about treating God’s other creatures with respect and kindness!


  7. Well my friend,I just finished my third post on cows. If this one also disappears, I’ll have to smash some plates.
    You got any?
    Uh-oh. My laptop is at stage two of Preliminary Cursor Freeze. I’l be back soon to tell you about Herd Retirement: I hope I can find my birth herd; I’ll never leave it again.
    Beautiful post!
    P.S. Don’t fall for troupes or packs or solitary pilgrimages in search of Self. It’s her


  8. Valarie,
    Thank you again for offering inspiration. I remember as a psychology student researching intelligence with ‘eye lid conditioning’ experiments and being told by the Chairman of the department that animals were not sentinent beings. He died setting himself on fire smoking in bed. So much for human sentinence.


  9. I weep for the damage that we have done to our fellow creatures. I believe we have learned to define compassion, kindness, loyalty, by their example. As George Bernard Shaw once said, “Animals are my friends…and I don’t eat my friends.”


  10. Those cheese muffins sounds delicious and so easy to make at the last minute which is a quick solution to unexpected guests as you point out. Thank you for the recipe.


  11. Oh.
    I can see now that the intended meaning of my coment is completely murky. I’m sorry.
    ( Hey, why didn’t you read my mind? (-: Har har )

    I did a terrible job of conveying my deep love for cows, I actually really WOULD love to be accepted as a member by a small herd. Of course not to literally live with – but long daily group naps and leisurely herd strolls.
    (I actually couldn’t bear to quite finish reading your powerful and beautiful post, although I’m so glad you wrote it. I guess the 24 hour-a-day slaughter of thousands of cattle in Dodge City eventually overflooded my brain.

    Anyway, I was crying while writing the two comments that disappeared. I guess I thought of my final effort as a kind of short cut – you didn’t read my mind?
    Oh, right. Sorry. (-:

    I wroe about how we are first expressed via our connection to our herd, which circles us with protection via our collective,identity. And that connection, which we share with so many other species, might be the most important thing about being human. Because – I should just say me – I can’t develop a more individual cosmoloy without the foundation of my herd identity.
    In fact, I just know that if circumstances such as the proximity of neighbors allowed me true expression, I wouldn’t write a press release.

    I’d throw back my head, open my mouth wide, and let forth a loud bellow of bovine distress. (-:



    • Claire…
      how can I reply to your ‘letter’? We really need to talk…I’m sorry I made you cry… considering how I feel I thought I was very calm and restrained in my blog !
      I cannot imagine the horror of living near a huge cattle works, I used to get depressed enough in the country seeing how animals are treated so thoughtlessly cruelly.
      Have you read ” My Year of Meat” the funniest and most poignant novel about the US beef industry… or Peter Singer’s Animal LIberation?
      I am obsessed with the plight of animals…I think you understand…


  12. Are humanity is challenged, our empathy at risk. You remind me of my childhood when we traveled the world I was 8 and my brother 6, my parents took us to a bull fight in Madrid. I sat through the entire day in tears while my brother bounced in his seat asking, ‘when are they going to kill the bull Daddy?’

    Isn’t it strange? My father tried to sooth me that day, the bull would be used to feed the hungry of the city. There was a use, it wouldn’t be a terrible outcome. I wasn’t soothed.

    Wonderful piece my friend. Thank you.


    • I had a chance to go to a bull fight also…I was old…50 at the time, I sat in the ring and suddenly I couldn’t do it. The pain and the agony…it made me cry. I left and waited for the others outside. With my hands over my eyes and my ears.



      • IT must have been awful Linda… To my great shame I went to one when I was twenty one, and staying with friends in Palma. They organised to take me to a gala – fight where Princess Grace of Monaco was going to do whatever people do to victorious matadors. I was too young and embarassed to say no thank you… and hated every minute, with the bloodthirsty roaring of the crowds and the horrible spectacle…

        Liked by 1 person

      • Oh, Valerie…I so understand…there are those of us who know…that animals have feelings and souls.


    • Dear Val, so good to hear from you… what a terrible day for a sensitive child… I also feel that the meat from the poor animal would have been in-edible after all the stress and terror the bull had endured.
      I sign endless petitions to stop bull fighting… and have written to the World Animal Protection society ( formerly WSPA), and got some answer like they’re working on it…
      Thank you as ever for your lovely words


  13. Being a Taurus 🙂 I can but agree with your description of the humanity of the bovine! I have been using organic dairy and other produce as often as I can get it (in Central Australia) for the very reasons you describe. Organic, small farming is how I remember it when I was a girl in the mid-west of the USA. We ate seasonally and from the local farms as much as possible, though I think they were using some nasty chemicals by the 50’s and 60’s there, which organic farmers no longer use. I saw the face of a beautiful cow on the trailer going to market one day, while I stopped at a traffic light. I didn’t eat meat for two years after that. But now I eat from the local butcher whose meat is pastured relatively near to us, and more humanely raised (and hopefully butchered). Lovely, thoughtful piece, Valerie.


    • Great comment, good friend… I know how you feel about looking a creature in the eye, and being unable to face eating meat…I very occasionally have a piece of lamb when I eat out, knowing that in this country, apart from the awful journey to the works, sheep have a decent life on good pasture… As you say, thank heavens for organic everything else.
      .Thank you you for your lovely words of appreciation… greatly valued


  14. Oh Valerie, this is so beautiful.


  15. I so agree with you. I am soon launching another of my diatribes against animal sacrifice under whatever pretext. I abhor trophy hunting (including foxhunting), dogfighting, the more extreme racing and competitive events involving animals, and these disgusting farming practices. The trouble is, those of us who see the evil in them fail to convince enough people to force change.


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