I once thought cows were these sloth-like animals that stood around all day, practically in the same spot, slowly tearing at grass and chewing their cud. You could even knock them over while they were sleeping and they’d comically tip over. When my family drove from eastern to western Pennsylvania, my dad would evidently shout out, “Moo cows!”, and us kids would sit up and scan the horizon for these lumbering, docile shapes. Who knew that I’d grow up to own a farm with family cows and find out cows are different than I ever imaged.
Maybe you too have your own myths about what kind of animal a cow is. After all, they usually aren’t kept in zoos and you rarely see them in a child’s petting zoo. Most of our view of cows come from how they are represented in the media (such as, Disney’s mostly retired, anthropomorphic cow Clarabelle) or as we drive past them on a country road.
Let me dispel the first myth–cows are stupid. Cows and other ruminants (grass eating mammals with more than one stomach) are far from stupid. They just think differently. For one, they operate in the now. They are not pondering mistakes of their past nor are they thinking of what tomorrow will bring. To them, maybe our way seems stupid–most likely they are right. Just imagine if we were living in the now. Seek out a three year old child and they will give you some idea of how that works in a human.
Did you know that male sheep–by the way, called rams–can be gay? Did you know that sheep can remember your face after two years? A goat can recognize her baby and vise versa even if the baby was taken away at birth.
There are lots of things they can do way better than us humans. Specifically, the one that comes to mind, is their ability to sense danger. Sheep really have this down. Not that they can get out of trouble, mind you, but they certainly know when the shit is going down.
Myth two, cows are peaceful, non-threatening creatures. Yes and no. First of all, cow tipping is a myth in itself. Four overly intoxicated college students. probably can’t knock down a 1,500 pound cow. Four purposely intended, and sober farmers probably can’t knock down a cow –nor would they want to. My vision of a bunch of college students going out to a farm doing this, is so not, how they probably imagined it at all.
Cows can take you out. Never forget that. In fact, there are an average of 22 deaths a year by bovines (cows, heifers, bulls and calves; collectively), typically due to stomping or goring. Farmers are at a higher risk of death by bovines and maybe those people you see on the streets of Mexico running with bulls. New mother’s don’t like you getting near their newborn calf. Just so you know. Take note.
The biggest thing I fear from my bovines is being knocked off my feet when they unexpectedly throw their head to the side to lick the flies off their flanks. Whoa! Watch out! I also fear my cow’s front leg kicking me on my head when I’m milking her. Watch for that tell tale sign of the side eye. Goats being milked, turn their heads to look at you too. Not always a good sign.
Bovines can be lovable too. They like to be pampered, brushed and rubbed–under the neck. They will answer to their names, come for treats, and flatly refuse to do what you want, just as my farm workers do occasionally.
Cows can love, so can dogs and yes, of course, so can humans. Isn’t that what makes us conscious? One day, in the not so distant past, we had Charlotte, the mother of all, taken to a farm not so far away to meet a handsome bull named “Farm Boy.” She liked Farm Boy okay but she was terribly homesick for her daughter Ellee. Ellee, on the other hand, was missing Charlotte almost as much. Charlotte wouldn’t eat and pined constantly for her missing family. A week later they were reunited and Charlotte ran passed her daughter Alohi to greet Ellee and they stood face to face licking and kissing. So yes, mother’s do have favorites, even if they say they don’t.
We have five bovines, which are collectively; two cows, two heifers (females who have not yet given birth) and one bull. You’d be surprised to know that a lot of people don’t know that a cow must give birth to produce milk. So, having said that, calves happen a lot if you want to drink milk. Seeing the family dynamics up close makes it hard to usher a family member to another place to live. One cow, leads to another and so on.
In the future, if you are ever on a farm and you have to learn how to milk a cow or move cows, they will always test you to see if your paying attention and they think they are in control. With practice you can make them do what you want. But never underestimate a cow because the reality is they are a lot bigger than you and if they don’t know you, they probably don’t like you all that much.