Rosamund Young’s The Secret Life of Cows gives far more than a simple description of animal personality, behaviour and communication. It speaks also to and of humanity. What animals eat impacts on their health and the quality and taste of their milk and meat. And we are animals. Land health is our health.
Bonds of relationship, compassion and love impact on performance and health.
Young so well demonstrates that there are other ways to ‘see’ land, people, animals, plants, soils, all manner of combinations of things, which could enable us to make a wonder-filled, robust and quality whole. Create a functional mix of very many things in combination (a system that goes beyond just the material to the behavioural), and we can realise so much potential. Yet we tend to reduce complexity to a physical machine of units and numbers (and murder the potential in our dissection) of a very few things to suit the technocratic mind – like dry matter production and metabolisable energy and homogeneous scale.
And by so doing, we stuff it all up with the arrogance of a blinkered worldview, as so well demonstrated by one science reviewer who disdainfully referred to Rosamund Young’s observation as ‘anecdote’ rather than ‘science’. If I might be permitted to use a bovine term – what bollocks.
What is science if not in-depth observation of complex and changing interrelationships over time and space? Deep knowing isn’t found by taking a cow out of a complex environment, putting it in a standardised laboratory with all the variables removed so you can get precise statistics, and asking some small question that never gets to the heart or the whole of a thing …. “How many times does a cow blink when under the stress of a laboratory environment?”
Yes, her book is anecdote, glorious anecdote, wisdom, observation of what was there to be observed without limits to her curiosity, to avoid at all costs the trait of specialists who see nothing they didn’t come to see.
More important than all this though is the way Rosamund opens us up to the intricacies and examples of communication. This applies to ‘human to human’ communications, though human communication is never mentioned. Along with ‘animal to animal’ and ‘animal to human’ connections, all those subtle layers of non-verbal communication are a language of its own, understood through movement, relative body position, eyes and body changes, sometimes not even that – just a feeling, a sense.
There is an almost mind reading communication here. A knowing that cannot be taught but through experience and a connected and open heart.
On an occasion when the weather was doing wonderful things in the sky, my once partner watched as I sat outside looking out across the land, got up and came inside – and as I went past her (on the way to get a notebook) she simply said “you’ve got a poem, haven’t you.”
She was right ….. but how did she know? Rosamund Young might have an answer to that.
Chris Perley is an affiliated researcher at Otago University’s Centre for Sustainability with a governance, research, management and policy background in provincial economies, rural sociology and land use strategy.
A time lapse of the Young’s Kite’s Nest farm in the English Cotswolds. It could be New Zealand ….. except of course that there are far too many trees ….
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