Sometimes people ask me what it was like growing up on a farm. I can’t answer that easily, but usually the next question is—what animals did you own. That’s when I talk about cows. Cows and more cows. What did you do with the cows? they ask. And then they often say something about how dumb cows are. It’s true. But there are a few things to say about cows. In fact I just had two essays on cows taken by a literary magazine. Now THAT, I never imagined possible. But about cows—just because people ask . . .
Some days after school I’d lead train calves, leading them a little ways, then wrapping the lead- line around a tree while they bucked and fought, then trying it again. (The calves don't really appreciate being dragged around by their neck at first-for some reason.) After a few days of trying, they’d tire out and walk beside me. It was important to train them before they got too big—Ayreshire cows (the kind we owned) weigh over 1000 pounds, and they’re one of the smaller breeds. By show-time the cows always walked easily around the ring, and they stood nicely as well, stretching their necks just so when I pulled their heads forward, or posing with one back leg forward and the other back slightly to show off their udders for the judge who would come around to each contestant, touching her back to be sure it was straight, examining her tail and withers and etc.. The cow would look pretty hot and bored, and she’d usually start licking my arm or pants with her long sticky tongue or rolling her eyes at me. I’d want to apologize to her, to say, yeah, this is pretty dumb. I admit it, but when it comes to human behavior, this sure isn’t the dumbest thing we do. When it comes to questions of intelligence, I know we always look down on our bovine friends. But at least their behavior usually makes sense.
5 months ago