The Secret Life of Cows by Rosamund Young

Review published on July 18, 2017.

Cows love each other, and babysit, play games, hold grudges and grieve, as demonstrated by examples from the Young family who have farmed Kite’s Nest Farm in Worcestershire since 1953.
This is a delightful story, edited and reprinted by Faber and Faber after reading Alan Bennett’s diary entry for 24th August 2006, in which he says “It’s a book that alters the way one looks at the world and one which all farmers would do well to read”. HRH Prince of Wales comments in Highgrove: A Portrait of an Estate (1997), “The cows are allowed to remain in family groups and their names tend to reflect a family connection”.

The farm started with five cows, an old tractor and no electricity or telephone and has been organic, with the main principle being contentment for the cattle, since the beginning.

As with cats and dogs and horses, the author believes that all cows, sheep, pigs and hens are individuals, but lose their identities when institutionalised. It is demonstrated that on their farm, cows’ foreheads and therefore their brains and intelligence increased over a few generations. The meat quality improves and it is possible to taste the difference in milk from different cows. If cattle are given a choice of staying outside or coming in, or walking on grass, straw or concrete, then they will choose what is best for them and not all will choose the same.

The different personalities of the individuals and the quirks of their behaviour are fascinating. I loved reading about the friendships between animals, which starts when they are calves and continues throughout their lives. Also engrossing is the way different animals attract the attention of the humans, especially when they are in need of help, perhaps because of an imminent difficult calving.

I recommend this quick little book to all readers, urban and rural. It is a privilege to get to know animals this intimately, which most of us will never experience, apart from our cats and dogs, but it has to be a second best choice to read the stories of those who have.

Jan Jeffery 5/3

The Secret Life of Cows by Rosamund Young
Faber & Faber 9780571336777 hbk Oct 2017

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