On Saturday I spent the morning in the company of cows. Something I didn’t realise I’d been craving. Living in an old cottage here on Europe’s western edge, conversing with creatures is normal.
I interrupt territorial rows between robins. Rescue worms from the road. Offer apologies to dead bodies for mouse murder.
“Hi Mossie. Hi Diva. Where’s Patsy?”
These are my neighbour cows. They gaze back at me. Giving nothing away.
A neighbour talked recently of the 24/7 demands of farming and so I offered to step up and help. I can learn how to feed the cattle, I said. So you can take a day off.
I got the quizzical eye.
“I’m not sure you’d like that sort of work.”
“Just a morning off then, when you’re very badly stuck.”
First thing the farmer does is march straight through the pen that contains a content looking cow and her calf. I know enough from listening to evidence at the coroner’s court that mammy cows are very protective of their babies. And so, afraid, I stall. He turns and laughs and says don’t worry she’s quiet so I do a little hop skip and scoot through to the next shed. The young fellas are in here. Light on their feet, plenty of energy.
The farmer appears to zip around the farmyard, silent and speedy, short steps in high boots that seem to barely touch the ground.
He disappears and reappears with a bucket of nuts mixed with maize and pours it into their metal feeder. Soft snouts descend into the trough. For a moment I am mesmerised by the sounds of their munching.
Next, to the weanling pen. There’s a glamourous bull with a ring in his nose and two younger ones, seven months old. These guys are shy and hide in the shadows at back of the shed.
“They’re afraid of you,” the farmer announces and then he’s gone again, into the slatted shed. Here, there is a row of pens on either side with tousled silage bales in the middle passageway. On the left is the maternity ward and on the right is a row of inquisitive heads with big questioning eyes, all turned in my direction.
Hello ladies I say.
Hello, they say, shifting the hefty weight of their heads.
I haven’t done any actual work yet and wonder when that phase might begin. I’m decked out in my garden overalls and boots, ready. The farmer has done about three laps of the farmyard completing different, mystery tasks while I’m standing here, staring at cows. There’s one nervous girl, she’s hiding behind the others. I try to coax her out making clicking noises with my tongue the way you would beckon a horse.
“Su-uck suck suck,” the farmer says to the weanlings outside. He is gently correcting me. I can’t bring myself to say suck suck to the shy girl so I talk to her instead.
Here love, come here, its okay.
She eyeballs me from behind another cow's bum.
Farmer arrives with a three pronged fork and hands it to me, with the instruction to take the silage from the middle of the messy mound on the ground. He works from the other end of the pen where the youngsters are, back towards me. And soon, the airy metal shed is filled with the sounds of chewing. And breathing. Soothing. The cows munch away appearing to have lost interest in me. The nervous girl is still hanging back. She's missing out on breakfast. I move up the shed a little and she squeezes herself in between two others, puts her head through the feed barrier and watches me warily, before dropping her soft muzzle into the pickled pasture grass.
The farmer leans on his four pronged fork and takes a pause, to talk. About silage, which animals eat what feed and why. Where the silage has come from. Suck suck suck.
“Come on I’ll show you these two.”
And we are off across a yard that is flanked by tall trees where the crows live. They caw and call and laugh and chat together.
Who is this one, they say.
‘The Two’ are over in another shed with the sun on their backs and an old Massey Ferguson parked neatly alongside. One tan and one black. The tan one emits a low moo when she sees the farmer. These two get to share a bucket of the nuts and maize mix. They lick it off the ground with their thick tongues, working rhythmically.
I hunch down and lean against the wall to watch. The farmer passes and tells me, you can take your photos and he’s off across the yard again on another elusive errand. I occupy a few moments in awe. The cawing and the crunching and the odd crash of metal are the soundscape to this scene. I could sit here all day.
I wonder why he is indulging me in this way. I am not exactly earning my keep.
Later, mucking out the cowdung, the farmer tells me - don’t bother doing that.
“You’ll get your boots dirty.”
But I’ve found this farm implement that I have only ever seen and not used so I am shoving the shit along the ground like a human snow plough. In the thick of it. We fall into semi-constructive work; he using a yard brush to clean the shed floor, I using the yard scrape to shove the poo outside. I fear this pile might need to be moved from its current resting place and venture a nervous query as to what happens next.
“It’ll stay there a day or two,” the farmer says, reading my thoughts. This seems to me, to be perhaps not quite true.
Later over tea and curranty cake we talk about the old post office, the old pub, the parochial house and old school days. The Master’s particular venom for those that failed to grasp the parliamentary politics of Henry Grattan. A patriot leader that won legislative independence for Ireland in 1782.
Afterwards I leave the farmyard with my bicycle and wave at my friends in the shed. They shuffle and munch and shift their weight.
Bye ladies, I say.
Warm thanks to those supporting my work, it is much appreciated.
We owe such a debt and gratitude to all our local farmers. Often in the background, working constantly, loving their calling and their animals and land. Working to feed our communities and they are absolutely our way forward 😊🙏
Makes you think doesnt it. Most farmers I knew had names for all their cows. They were like family friends. Yet Gates wants to shut down farming as we know it, they want to cut meat production but its farmers who feed all of us. Evil.
The Bible tells us that God owns the cattle on a thousand hills. Not Bill Gates.