In praise of the cow

2011-10-12 00:00

OF all the animals on this most beautiful planet, I find myself drawn to one which make its living out of chewing the cud — the cow. I am not exactly sure why but, I assume, it is their languid attitude that I find appealing. Maybe it’s a mind-set that I aspire to but, in our very active world, never really achieve. They seem to have all the time in the world to do anything. Mostly they eat, but a significant proportion of their time is occupied by resting under a tree, peering into the distance as if in deep contemplation, ruminating and burping without recrimination from those around them.

They don’t get too stressed about anything, really, unless they are chased by lions or tigers or umfanas with big whips. Or bulls when they are in season. Or if there is a threat to their calf.

Watch them amble across the road. They show no fear for the make, size or speed of the approaching vehicle. You have to avoid them, not the other way around. They afford the same status of disdain for a Prado as for a Yaris.

And those of you who only think of cows in terms of steak-and-kidney pies, let me tell you that lots of people who think like me form a strong bond with their cattle.

One of my first recollections of my mother-in-law was seeing her cry when the bull departed their farm for the abattoir.

The attachment is usually reinforced when one attaches names to them. Years back I delivered a heifer calf for a dairy farmer and he named her after me. She had a very characteristic black mark next to her tail. The poor girl was infertile and we never got her pregnant, despite numerous attempts to do so.

Years later, on the Greytown road, I pulled up behind this farmer’s pick- up with two cows on it, destined for the Dalton Abattoir. One of them had a distinctive black mark next to her tail. The memory is filed away in my brain under the title “Things better to forget but never do”.

When Wynand was single, his cows were named after acquaintances and other prominent females.

He then got married to the lovely Elly and overnight his strategy changed. Not that radically though — I mean he did not now call them Bob or Gert or anything like that and give them a gender complex — just that the significance in the naming was altered.

He was one of the farmers, by the way, who had his entire herd culled during the foot and mouth saga outside Camperdown 11 years ago. Fifty eight beautiful Red Angus cows (and over 2 500 pigs) of his were executed in a vain attempt to prevent the spread of the disease. To his credit, he rebuilt his herd and now occupies a position with one of the best Red Angus studs in the province.

Another who lost her herd in the same outbreak was Pauline. All her cows had names, too, each one with a personal history that made them individuals in her eyes. All would come when called. Like overgrown Labradors.

Annie was the matriarch, a deep rich-red Jersey acquired for Pauline’s son on his fourth birthday some 14 years prior. Annie stood next to Robert while the entire herd was shot, her daughters and granddaughters dropping like large overripe fruit in front of her. She was the last to go. Those of you who believe that it is unnecessary to shed tears for meat, think again. Pauline, and for that matter all of us who were close, will vehemently disagree.

The Hindus take their feelings for cows to a greater level, believing they harbour deities of God. I am privileged to be tasked with the care of the health of four of these animals at the Shri Krishna Gowshala just outside Thornville, a responsibility I attempt to fulfil with the dignity required of the position. Here, each cow is housed in its own stalls within a temple and are they allowed out during the day to graze and do cow things. I was recently invited to attend an impressive ceremony at this facility. A huge marquee­ was erected and some 2 000 devotees gathered in all their dignified finery to pray and to pay tribute to the cows, which, it must be said, revelled in the attention and all the fruit and vegetables they were offered.

And, sitting as I was at this harmonious gathering, I had time to reflect that while many regard cows merely for their physical sustenance, a significant­ number of us rely on them to sustain our souls as well.

• The author is a practising vet with a passion for his profession and a giggle in his heart.



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