Over the years, I have been licked in the face by a cow (gloopy), wrestled a newspaper off one (stubborn) and once found myself on the wrong side of a fence with a bull and his maidens (dangerous and quite frankly terrifying). However, I’ve never really thought of cows as close neighbours, even though they can be found in many of the fields around where I live. Most days I only have to cross the lane and lean over a five-bar gate to say hello to a herd of Friesians. But I think my attitude is set to change, now I’ve read The Secret Life of Cows by Rosamund Young.
The Secret Life of Cows is a completely charming and very thought-provoking book, first published in 2003 and reissued by Faber in October this year. In it, Rosamund Young shares stories from Kite’s Nest Farm, which she runs with her brother, Richard, and partner, Gareth. Her stories don’t focus on humans at all, but on dynasties of cattle and other animals at the farm, which sounds like a very special place.
Without particularly anthropomorphising them, Rosamund Young sketches the different personalities of cows, bulls, calves, pigs, sheep and even hens. I’ve often been intrigued by the ways in which cows interact with each other; and their sheer joy when they are let out into their spring pastures is something to behold. The sorts of behaviours that Rosamund Young describes are funny, intelligent, fascinating, moving and entertaining – and make a convincing case for animal sentience.
The Secret Life of Cows also shows the benefits of a different way of farming: about working with the needs of animals and allowing them a measure of freedom, rather than corralling their instincts without compassion. In addition to a score of animal anecdotes, it seems to me that The Secret Life of Cows is very much about the importance of kindness and the value of treating all other living beings with dignity.