Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Shepherd Cows.

I witnessed something quite extraordinary today.

The ground behind and to the side of my house is occupied by a small group of Farmer Stan’s beef herd. They’re happy animals, I suppose because they’re living a more or less normal life for a bovine. There are sixteen in that group, mostly black and white Friesians with a couple of brown and white ones and three pure white Charolais.

This afternoon I watched as the group made its way in line astern down the field towards the feeder trough at the bottom. (Once or twice a day they get fed with some kind of meal which I assume contains a growth hormone. They seem to like it.) The two brown and white ones – let’s call them B1 and B2 – stood back and seemed to be taking up ‘sentinel’ positions about 50 yards apart. I counted them all and there were six missing.

A few minutes later the first of the errant six appeared from behind a hedge, rubbed heads with B1, and then walked off to join the line. As each of the remaining five appeared, it rubbed heads with either B1 or B2 and joined the others. Once the last of them had gone, the two sentinels indulged in a bit of leaping and leg kicking, and trotted off to catch up with the group. But here comes the interesting bit.

When they caught up with it, the last of the errants in the line turned around and rubbed heads again with B2. B1 walked up, nudged B2 in the rump to push him forward, and all sixteen walked down to the trough with the two boss cows bringing up the rear.

It really seemed – and I don’t think I’m being unduly fanciful here – that the two sentinels really were playing a sort of shepherding role. So what was the head rubbing all about? Some kind of recognition process, a display of relative rank, or simply a greeting? How would I know?

You wouldn’t think cows would be that well organised, would you? Seems they might be.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

I love how most of our animal cousins are much more complex than most would have you believe. Last night, one of my chickens was killed and as I was inspecting her wounds, I noticed one harvestman spider sitting on top of her back. Another came along and started to -- I think -- eat a little bit of her exposed flesh. The other got upset and ran over to this interloper and began grappling with it.

This exchange kind of softened the blow of losing a little friend, simply because it was *so* fascinating.

JJ Beazley said...

So sorry about your chicken. They do become friends, don't they?

I sometimes get bats flying around the house at twilight - I reckon there must be lots of flying insects hanging around the heat coming off the brickwork. For about a week now I've been noticing that one larger bat is flying an unusually complex pattern, and there's a smaller one flying behind and following the movements. My guess is that a parent is teaching a juvenile how to hunt.

Anonymous said...

Ahh... The world is an amazing place, isn't it?

JJ Beazley said...

Probably not if you're a moth. It's late...

Anonymous said...

Hah! It's all about perspective. Imagine how delicious a warm breeze is to a moth, how excitingly immediate it feels. Sometimes, I wonder if little creatures glean a lot of pleasure from all the simplistic facets of their very short lives.

How long does the day feel to a moth that only lives a week?

JJ Beazley said...

I remember reading an article a very long time ago, which claimed that perception is determined by principles of relativity, and that a second must be perceived as a long time to an insect. It disturbs me greatly if I accidentally tread on one.

Anonymous said...

Exactly. And yes, I feel the same way.

JJ Beazley said...

I like people who consider the interests of even the lowliest creatures. I suppose it's about recognising that life is life no matter what form it comes in, and respecting that life.

Anonymous said...

I maintain that life has intrinsic value. So, yes.

Anonymous said...

***ALL life

JJ Beazley said...

The life force is one of the great mysteries, and I've long suspected that it's something subtle and separate from the biological functions. When someone or something dies, I don't see it as being simply the cessation of heartbeat, respiration, and brain function, but as the process whereby the life force resumes its independence. And I also suspect that each life is a fragment of the same force, be it housed in a human or an earthworm.