Farming Notes: The cow cannot put a hoof wrong

WHEN I mention to people that I have written a book in which the heroine is a cow, they consistently tell me there is nothing unusual in that. Lots of heroines are utter cows, whether the author appreciates it or not: Vanity Fair's Becky Sharp, Scarlett O'Hara of Gone with the Wind and that arch-cow Lady Macbeth. They think I am describing a protagonist who is a nasty piece of work, deceitful and manipulative and stubborn.

The recipe for disrespect is to take a hefty pinch of bovine flavouring and sprinkle freely. Daft cows, silly old moos; cowboy builders, lying bullshitters.Somewhere in the bovine world there is an insult to fit any situation: in America, baseball players who hold the bat hands reversed are called cow-handed. On the dance floor, beware the cow-footed. Cows can't do anything right.

That is not how I think about cows, after knowing several of them pretty well. It is true that their moo has less martial glamour than a horse's whinny. I admit that when they run they look silly - legs flying, udders swinging, tails high in the air, eyes wide to bursting point. The worst thing that can be said of a horse is that "it trots like a cow". But the cow is a giving, gentle creature, from whom the milk of kindness flows twice daily. Cows are companionable, calm and collected when allowed to live life on their own terms. And if they never appear to be troubled much by thought, envy them their peace of mind. Treated with respect they are faithful servants. For me they cannot put a cloven hoof wrong. If anyone on our farm gets called a cow, they glow at the compliment.

I sometimes wonder how many are left who hold the cow in some esteem. Few animals have fallen so far, so fast, in public appreciation. How quickly we have forgotten what a friend she has been. Did she not lift us to higher planes of civilisation long ago, by allowing us to harness her and her brethren to pull ploughs and carts? Does she not give us milk to drink? And, when dead, bequeath us meat and leather? So fundamental was the cow to early civilisations that Sanskrit scholars translate "soldier" from the literal "one who fights about cows". Morning was the "calling of the cattle" and evening was the "milking time".

If her reputation has collapsed in the last decade, it is hardly the cow's fault. In our well-fed, bloated affluence where efficiency of food production counts for everything and compassion for very little, when animals have been reduced to the status of machinery not only by farmers but also by the consumers who expect ever cheaper food, we have delivered the cow an insulting slap around her soft, whiskery mouth, and then turned away with a shrug from her disgrace and death. We thought we knew better than she did about how she should be fed, so we put before this herbivore a plateful of infected meat. It sent her mad. To add insult to injury, we tried to pretend it had never happened by heaping millions of cows into incinerators and letting the flames smother our conscience.

Mud sticks. Ask any cow. It will be a long time before anyone is going to feel the same about these lovely beasts, after the repeated television showing of the staggering and suffering of the crazed ones, and the suspicion (unproved, as yet, remember) that the dementia we gave them can pass to humans through their meat.

There has been much mud flying around over the past few months as the BSE inquiry started to point accusing fingers at ministers, civil servants and farmers. And then there are those who pointed to themselves as innocent victims of the other side. But, in all the argument, no one heard or will hear from the cow. She has no voice. Until we have made our peace with the cow and remembered to value her for what she is and what she has given to humanity, we will carry the burden of our guilt. Let cows be heroines again.

Paul Heiney is author of `Domino's Effect' (Coronet, pounds 5.99)

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Emo rockers Fall Out Boy

music

Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment

film

Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
    Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

    The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

    Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
    Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

    A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
    How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

    How books can defeat Isis

    Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
    The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

    The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

    The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
    Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

    Young carers to make dance debut

    What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
    Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

    Design Council's 70th anniversary

    Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
    Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

    Dame Harriet Walter interview

    The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

    Bill Granger's winter salads

    Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
    England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

    George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

    No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
    Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links