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The Secret Life of Cows Audio CD – Audiobook, MP3 Audio, Unabridged
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Audio CD, Audiobook, MP3 Audio, Unabridged
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'Inspiring and important.' Author: Country Life
'A little masterpiece of animal sentience.’ Author: The Oldie
'Delightful ... it alters the way one looks at the world.' Author: Alan Bennett
The rediscovered gem following a farmer's thoughtful and moving observations of her herd and the intelligence of cows.See all Product description
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It's sweet, life-affirming and enjoyable though it lacks anything in the way of a plot (if that's what you're looking for). But there is a great big elephant in the room - the lurking question of meat. It's wonderful to have your animals as your friends - but can you EAT your friends? I'm baffled that this isn't addressed at any point in the book. Clearly Young's animals have good lives but we can't ignore that most will get eaten. All the funky tales of being able to tell which cow made which milk on the basis of how it tastes, leave me wondering about whether you can taste the joy in a steak or a burger.
I don't eat meat and haven't done for half a lifetime. I'm not preachy (I'm a fishitarian, not a vegetarian but I believe 'each to their own) but I needed the issue of meat to be addressed. We don't live in a Beatrice Potter world of rabbits in waistcoats and friendly hedgehogs and Young's family farm must be about making money and not just keeping a very large number of very large four-legged 'pets'.
Cows are beautiful animals and I enjoyed reading more about their social skills. I just felt the ultimate destiny of these cows needed to be acknowledged.
Back in the 1990s I managed to walk probably 99% of the public footpaths within twenty kilometres of my home town of Plymouth - and many more beyond. Crossing fields in which cows were grazing was a common experience, and I often came face to face with groups of playful bullocks and steers, and I feel sure I must have come across the odd bull when I was where I shouldn't have been.
Sometimes the cows would just like there nonchalantly chewing the cud; sometimes they'd be impatient when awaiting the arrival of winter silage from the farmer; sometimes they would follow me from one end of a field to the stile at the other end out of curiosity; and often I had to raise my stick and shout admonishmentary noises when they got close enough behind me to start nuzzling into my backpack.
It's obvious when you think about it that cows have their own emotions, wishes, and desires. But because we think of them as milk machines or sources of steak rather than as pets that we put all such thoughts at the back of our minds. Rosamund Young's book has brought it all very much to the forefront.
She and her family have farmed their herds on the Worcestershire Cotswolds since the 1960s in an open and free manner, eschewing high-tech, high-end profit and putting the health and wellbeing of the animals first. It's an amazing story told in bursts of bovine biography: she knows the family relationships of all the cattle and shows each is as intelligent or stupid, as loving or haughty, passive or aggressive as any group of humans.
There are tales of interspecies communication, of babysitting bovine grandmothers, of a bull who liked to get high on the fumes of a Land Rover, of cows seeking out their own natural plant remedies to deal with health complaints. Section headings include 'Mothers and daughters', 'A brief note about sleep', 'Different kinds of mooing', and 'Cows remember'.
There is so much to learn and to be delighted by in this short book that Alan Bennett is surely right to say in his foreword, "it's a book that alters the way one looks at the world, with dumb animals not as dumb as we would like to think. It's a book that alters the way one sees things and passing a field of cows nowadays I find myself wondering about their friendships and their outlook, notions that before reading Young's book I would have thought fanciful, even daft. Not any more."
What's missing are many references to the end days. Are any sent to the abatoir or do they all live out their natural lives? Cows can live for more than twenty years and Young refers to a few natural deaths of aged grandmothers who had sired many of the herd, so I would guess the latter. There is no hint in this book of any argument in favour of vegetarianism. But it has confirmed more than ever that buying organic meat locally is definitely the correct option.