Monday, 29 March 2010

One of the herd

   Phrases like "one of the herd", and words like "sheep" are often used to describe non-individualistic behaviour. My experience yesterday definitely gives the lie to the first one.
   Let me set some atmosphere. Imagine the Benny Hill theme is playing. And it's being played by a bluegrass band. Fiddles, foot tapping, that kind of thing.
   I spent yesterday afternoon chez my parents, fixing the aged Nissan belonging to my friend G. Cars ain't her thing. Because we'd spent longer then expected at the Nissan, we ended up helping my dad separate out a cow from the herd in preparation for a routine vets visit today. This meant that I, G and my dad had to walk out into a field of cows and coax one of them into a corner of the field cordoned off with electric fence wire. Easy enough, you'd think, they're just cows.
   Trouble is, these ain't ordinary cows, they're ladies. A suckler herd, these aren't flighty heifers, instead they're middle aged cows who've seen some of the world. Cows are best managed by treating them well and getting to know their individual foibles, so not only are these cows rather mature, they've also shed the herd instinct and are  individuals. Slightly bored individuals at that, and our arrival was the best thing they'd seen all day.
    If you don't know cows, let me explain something about them. A cow is a very large animal with the motive power of a small tractor and a mind of its own. If you want to get a cow to do something, you have two choices: make it trust you enough to do it or try to threaten it into doing it. The former is the right way to manage cows, the latter the wrong way because somewhere down the line will come a time when that cow just won't do what you want and you'll end up on the wrong end of several tons of angry cow. Besides, mistreating a cow is not a very nice thing to do. So these cows are very well treated. They're pretty tame because they trust us. They know my dad really well, me slightly and G not at all but because they didn't see us as a threat they let us walk right among them trailing a line of fence tape between us without worry to find the one to be separated. Then they decided they needed entertainment.
    In theory separating a cow is easy enough. Three of you walk slowly behind the cow holding the tape between you in an L shape, keeping the cow in the crook of the L and herding her towards the pen. In practice with a field of entertainment starved individuals, things start moving.
    Cows can run when they want to. They can also jump like steeplechasers, though fortunately today they didn't do that. They did decide that now was the time for a bit of non-cooperation and instead they wanted to high-tail it around for a bit. Time for the Benny Hill moment. Pretty soon we got rather tired, and as always happens not long afterwards the cows got bored and the one needing the vet almost made her way to the pen on her own. It always happens that way, but you can't just sit there and let them run around because then they'll stop and watch you, to see what the next entertainment is going to be. And that's spooky.
     I didn't bother with my workout last night. I didn't need to. I'm still aching and that was over 24 hours ago.

4 comments:

  1. Sheep are good for cussedness too; I swear that when danger threatened, our flock would run in every direction rather than flock together... though it's harder to get trampled by sheep.

    A chap I met on Offa's Dyke got trampled by cattle, just after we'd met him. I heard about it from a neighbour, whose ex-husband he happened to be. Dangers of travelling with a dog in early summer...

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/belvedere/3954448997/in/set-72157600318227332/

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  2. Sheep in these 'ere parts are mostly contract farmed so the owner of the sheep is rarely the owner of the field. Therefore the field is rarely fully sheep-proof. They flock together when one of them finds an opening! Cue a Benny Hill moment from us on the other side, like trying to get an over-liberal squirt of shampoo back into the bottle.

    Dogs and cattle, ouch! Like I said, cows can run like racehorses when they want to.

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  3. Well, I know absolutely nothing about cows. My one and only experience with a cow was rather unpleasant. I had carefully entered its territory, which was a large field surrounded by an electric fence. There was only one cow in this field (don't ask me why I was in the field). The cow had horns and some big thing dangling from below. Once the cow saw me, he(?) began to run towards me at a VERY fast rate of speed. I ran towards the closest fence and had to straddle the electric fence, immediately getting zapped in that area of my male anatomy "down below", as my foot hit the flooded field on the other side. Said cow's horns, however, never made contact with me.

    Now that I think of it, said cow must have been a "he".

    I could say something cute at this point about GRS, but I won't.

    Sorry I am reading this entertaining post so late, Jenny.

    Calie xxx

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  4. I've seen a bull run at full speed through a hedge as though it didn't exist. I was following said bull at the time.

    Growing up where I did I have a *very* healthy respect for electric fence wire.

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