Saturday 25 October 2014

Fun-loving fellows on both sides of floodplain

Published 13/07/2014 | 02:30

The drop in prices for cattle is higher in Ireland than the rest of Europe.
The drop in prices for cattle is higher in Ireland than the rest of Europe.

Cows are in the floodplain these summer days; I look out some sunny mornings and see them sitting like caramel or 
black and white boulders 
in the long grass.

It can be a biblical scene when they go down to the river to drink, forming a benign, bovine queue.

But things can go wrong. Recently, one of them got into trouble on the 
footbridge that leads to an island and ended up strangling himself. The bridge was removed as a result, for fear a child could get similarly caught. A gate with a latch might have sufficed; it seems a bit like throwing the baby out with the bovine water.

Let's face it: the cow's life may have ended tragically, but he wasn't exactly facing a retirement in Florida. The butchers in town own the field; most Sundays a cow is corralled from a trailer into the nearby abattoir.

I love cows so I always feel sorry. But I still avoid going into a field full of them, after an experience when walking my pooch 
on the floodplain some 
years ago. The cows were fascinated by this black-and-white miniature of fellow 'moos' and surrounded us.

I was scared; cows are colossal and can stampede. That used to be unheard of, but it is known to happen nowadays. People say cows are more aggressive because the breeds are mixed, and because they are reared with less human contact.

But the fat cats that stalk the floodplain for adventure at dusk don't have a monopoly on curiosity. I've witnessed mini revolutions over the years, when the cows have somehow broken through the stile that separates the floodplain from the footpath. It's quite a sight to see a herd hightailing it, timid team members following the more bolshie bovines, before they are corralled back.

More common to see is a cow leaning over the divide, watching pet dogs at play. Recently I saw one communing with a pooch, straining across the stile to sniff each other.

It's no surprise; cows are sentient beings who recognise faces and form friendships. Research has shown that they jump for joy when they work out a puzzle.

But there is a drastic difference in our perception of each. One is viewed as livestock, almost an inanimate object, with a plastic tag piercing its ear. The other is, ostensibly, called man's best friend.

There used to be a couple of cows in the local Camphill Community, who were smaller than regular breeds. They ploughed the fields there in the old-fashioned way and displayed a strong connection with the man they worked with. In fact, he told me that once he put them in a field with a strange herd and the panicked pair ran away.

It's a pity we do the same, fuelled by fear of the unknown instead of fellow feeling for these other fundamentally gentle 
four-legged fellows.

Sunday Independent

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