Monday, November 16, 2009


I never used to worry about cows. Even when, aged twelve or so, I was charged - rather half-heartedly, it must be admitted - by a bull, I was more amused than scared. But now they're preying on my mind. Maybe it's my conscience, reminding me of all the steaks I've eaten and the leather shoes I'm wearing.

Or maybe the cows are getting more dangerous.

I've spent the past week driving my dear sainted grey-haired old mother about the island. It's her first visit to New Zealand, and I wanted to show her as much as possible of what I love about this country. Her admiration for the scenery is perfectly satisfying; she goes into unsolicited raptures about the trees; she enjoys the geology and the flowers.

But the cows worry her. There are too many of them, she insists. Not in absolute numbers, but each field that contains them, contains too many of them for the size of field.

You might say they're overcowded. But let's not.

Admittedly she's not a farmer, but she has lived a large part of her life in the country. She knows what a field full of cows is supposed to look like. And it may be just the power of suggestion, but I think she's right...

On Sunday, as we drove from Coromandel to Whitianga, I was privileged to see one of these bovines relieving its bladder. It was a horrific sight: not to mince words, it looked as if this particular cow had been bred more for firefighting than milking. Suddenly I became aware that I'd had a lot of coffee for breakfast, and my own bladder would be needing relief before I was much older. Which was vexing, as we were not, so to speak, conveniently located.

For the next half hour, I tried to take my mind off the spectacle. As we drove through the rolling agricultural pastures of the Coromandel peninsula, I tried not to think about cows. As we stopped at the beach, I studiously ignored the waves gently lapping the shore twenty metres from my left ear. A house across the road had what looked like an outhouse. On these occasions, one can't help looking at these things a little more speculatively than one has any strict right to.

Sometimes the scenery just won't give you a break.

By the time we reached the sanctuary of Whitianga and a civilised cafe, I was wondering: how hard can it be to drive with one's legs crossed?

But now Deadlyjelly's report has my mind going in an even more sinister direction. What if the cows themselves sense that they are being packed too tightly? What if it's affecting their (and you'll have to pardon me here, contact with my immediate family often has this effect on me) mood? What if modern farming is turning these legendarily placid animals into barely-containable barrels of raw bovine vengeance?

What if New Zealand is heading for its own Orwellian nightmare? The irony would be rich indeed.


Anonymous said...


We saw a vivid reminder of bovine overcrowding a few years back when the government and NFU so spectacularly mishandled foot&mouth. Where there were cows in a field at the moment movement was forbidden, all traces of grass disappeared leaving a nightmare of black earth. Not even a large number of cows, just too small a field.

p.s. i remember that bull (it was a family+friends walk that got charged). The dog got charged and had to use her superior manoeuverability to escape under a stile, giving the humans an easy break. Most amusing was our father brandishing a stick: it would be hard to conceive a more ineffectual gesture of protecting his brood!

Cian said...

I never thought I would be reading such funny and thoughful posts on cows. Between DeadlyJelly and yourself you've done a great job...

Anonymous said...

As the aged, white-haired mum I can tell how about 60 years ago, I my uncle and 2 or 3 younger cousins were crossing fields with a few cows on our way to the bathing hole in the local river. I had just learnt the art of hand milking and was showing off to admiring young cousins; the cows were total strangers to us - but cows are/were placid creatures contented to chew the cud and let you have your way. Overcrowding, poisoning, genetic engineering or whatever their nature has clearly changed since those faraway days. Mumsie