Connacht Tribune - Opinion Piece
Good moos – cows take comfort from their Friesian friendsAugust 22, 2012 - 9:46am
Man’s best friend may be a dog, but cows are apparently more inclined to turn to each other for consolation when times get tough down on the farm.
The Friesian friendship is not be sneezed at because cows can apparently form close friendships with each other to the point that they produce less milk when they are separated.
That said, there’d be a lot fewer eating steak if we allowed them to stick together for all of their natural lifetime.
But the diary of a dairy herd will form a significant part of daily life for the next three years for a team of researchers from Exeter University in the UK, who are anxious to maximise milk potential even if it means letting cows congregate and chew the fat – or the cud – to prosper.
Research is already underway in Devon, where a herd of cows are wearing radio transmitters, or proximity collars, to see how close – literally and metaphorically – they are to each other on a daily basis.
Do they, for example, discuss the price of beef? Would they back horses, if they got a good tip from the next field? Do they complain about the smell off the pigs?
What happens when the man in the big lorry pulls up and half your pals are shunted into the back, never to be seen or heard from again unless you are dining out on black pudding?
There’s a whole world of discovery awaiting the researchers as they get to grips with the social networking of the cow classes, all of them out standing in their own field.
Of course the serious aspect to all of this is the £8 billion a year that the dairy industry is worth to the UK economy, but the entertaining side will be just what our beef brethren get up to when they think there’s no one looking.
Equally it’s an acknowledgement that these are more than just massive containers of milk and beef – they have feelings too like the rest of us.
Of course the real danger for these researchers is that they’ll start to form friendships of a sort themselves with their guinea pigs – or cows – and they will never be able to look a Big Mac in the face against without seeing Bessie or Bertha.
It’s not the first time that animals have been treated above their station, but at least when it comes to racehorses – who are more pampered than the jockeys – there is the small matter of their multi-million euro value to the Sheiks and tax refugees of this world.
Some people think their dogs understand them or they sleep with the cat; others wrap snakes around themselves when a cardigan would be a much safer option.
The only time the question of cows’ feelings came up for discussion has been in the never-ending debate over the consumption of veal.
And that really is more down to the fact that little new-born calves look lovely whereas cows or cattle are just big lumbering burgers dressed up in black and white.
Maybe it’s the start of a whole new era for cows everywhere, a world where we’ll treat them as equals and not just as the source of something that goes well with chips and mushrooms.
But frankly, I wouldn’t be holding my breath.
For more, read this week's Connacht Tribune.