My first encounter with a cow, up close and personal, was at my Uncle Virgil’s farm. I was trying to make friends with a cow which was standing about 10 feet in the field from the whitewashed board fence I was perched on. You must understand that the only animals this young city girl had experiences with were dogs, our pet dogs – and an occasional cat. Dogs love people; they wag their tails, rush over to be petted, lick your face. Even cats saunter up to rub against your legs and purr as you pet them. But this cow was a mystery to me.
I cooed sweet nothings to her in that voice we all talk to babies in, “Hey girl . . . You are such a pretty girl! . . . Just look at those big brown eyes . . . Come here and let me pet you . . . I have a fist full of grass for you.” Nothing. The cow just stood there staring at me, not blinking even one eye. I tried again and again, and she never stopped looking at me, and she never moved a muscle . . . until almost as an out and out insult, she just started chewing her cud, still staring at me. Looking back, I guess she was wondering just what kind of fool I was, until she decided I was harmless -- insignificant really. But at the time, I decided that cows were probably the dumbest animals around.
Then there was the time my cousins and I decided to take a short cut through the woods and fields from Grandma’s house to Uncle Virgil and Aunt Lexie’s house instead of walking around by the gravel road. Diane, the oldest of us said as we crossed Mr. Burris’ pasture field, “Watch out for the bull. If we see him, we have to run like mad to the fence or he’ll get us!” Yikes! I was the youngest, so I could just see me being the last to reach the safety of the fence! Anyway, we never saw any of this bull, but my young impressionable mind decided that bulls were mean. Cows were dumb and bulls were mean.
I was a bovine bigot.
Fast forward to married life and an always-wanted-to-be-a-farmer husband. At our first little 10 acres, we started doing the farm thing -- building fences and a barn, buying a few cows and a couple of horses. My husband loved it and so did I -- still do. People would ask how many head of cattle we had (people with a 50 head of cattle), and I’d say, “Oh, we have three head.” We’ve since moved to a larger farm, but the biggest “herd” we’ve had at one time was probably seven or eight with a mixture of calves, heifers, cows, and bulls. And you may have guessed that I no longer think that all cows are dumb, nor are all bulls mean. You just have to spend quality time getting to know them – which mostly means feeding them every day.
Yes, through the years our various cows were so smart that they came when we called them (for feeding), knew what time of day it was (for feeding), knew how to go back into their field through the very same hole in the fence they made to get out, refused to go into pens where they might end up being carried off in a cattle trailer or get some medicinal shots . . . I could go on and on. The bulls we’ve had ranged from curious, frisky, lazy (excuse me, relaxed), and even sweet. None were mean, though there were some I wouldn’t turn my back on, if you know what I’m saying. We had one little red bull calf who was so gentle he’d join us in the front yard when we had company. We sold Andy -- my husband thought his habit of walking through fences wasn’t cute.
I should mention that I think so highly of our cows and bulls that I name each and every one of them. We’ve had a PeeWee, a Toad, an Alice, a Cotton (and a Candy, of course), a Maxine, a Leroy and so-on. We found it was bad luck to name any after a living relative because for some reason they often went to that big pasture in the sky before their time (the cows, not the relative). I had an unprintable name for one calf we bought at the Hall’s cattle sale. He jumped out of our cow truck and ran, what felt like, all over suburban north Knoxville. We got the animal control people and neighborhood kids to help us look for him. Thank the Lord he didn’t cause any car wrecks or property damage -- that we knew of anyway. We finally found him in a nearby pasture with someone else’s cows. The whole fiasco made me miss the Bible study I was supposed to lead. I called to tell the ladies what was happening, but the message was misinterpreted that I was chasing a cat all over Knoxville . . . I’m surprised they had me back.
So, anyway, after all these years, I really have come to understand cows. They are basically the same as my dogs – they have personalities and feelings, and some are smarter than others, and some are nicer than others. Now, though, we have a new kind of bovine in the neighborhood- buffalo. I’ve heard they’re mean, but they are probably just misunderstood. In any case, I’m not going to be investigating the American Buffalo any time soon.
But in my perfect world, I’d have lots of animals on the farm and lots of time to get to know them and spoil them.
And in my perfect world, all folks would take time to understand animals and be kinder to them.
“. . . God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind . . . and God said it was good.” (Gen 1:25). “And Adam gave names to all cattle . . . .” (Gen 2:20).
I wonder if he named any Leroy?