Thursday, October 19, 2006


What are those cows up to?

An old man of Swaffham is in hospital after being trampled by a herd of cattle. The herd was apparently spooked by the sound of gunfire and bolted in the direction of the 87 year old who couldn't get out of the way. He has not been named.

This is no joking matter, but I fear not many 87 year-olds could outrun a load of fairly pacey cows. I wish the un-named victim well and hope he makes a speedy recovery.

I must confess, I have some experience with cattle. See my blog of 16 March at if you are not convinced.

I mention this because it is amazing how many young people have no experience of farm animals or any concept of their how the animals live or the part they play in providing us with food and other useful products. Ask most children where beefburgers come from and they will say, “Macdonalds”. It is only in the last 50 – 100 years that most societies in the Western World have divorced themselves from the rearing and subsequent slaughter of the domesticated animals which so deliciously provide us with Sunday lunch. One unplanned consequence of this has been the total ignorance of a majority of the population as to how food, in particular meat, is produced.

Many children are frightened of cattle. This is not surprising when you stop to think about it. Most children only see cattle standing in fields – large fields. Large cattle. They are big. They look stupid. Therefore, they may be dangerous. It's a bit like seeing an unknown, large and stupid man in the pub. He's probably a jovial giant, but most of us steer (pardon the pun) clear just to be on the safe side. So, a child's “fear” of cows is not entirely unjustified – given today's divorce from the natural world.

I am reminded of George Orwell's comment about how he got the idea for Animal Farm. George, who was living on a farm in Oxfordshire at the time, saw a a small lad leading an enormous cart horse along a cart path. He speculated that if only the horse was aware of its size and power the lad would have no chance of controlling it. The rest, as they say, is history – though Orwell's real genius was in making the horse the stupidest animal on the farm – despite what horse-lovers choose to believe, this is manifestly true.

Most people in the 1930's would have recognised that cows and horses are not inherently dangerous because they have been thoroughly domesticated. They are large animals and if they should, for example, fall on you or step on you it would hurt. Fortunately, they do not “attack” humans by choice. Why should they? Because we feed and protect them their numbers are vastly inflated over what evolution and Mother Nature intended. In evolutionary terms the cows are winning. The price they pay is many of their genus are slaughtered to provide us with food. Still, there are millions more of them than would normally be expected to survive in the wild.

The idea that cattle might take umbrage at this “travesty” is, of course, suicidally nonsensical. They may as well complain to their MP about the quality of their feed.

That's why Mr 87 year old-timer being trampled by a herd of rampaging cows is news – just as man bites dog is bound to make the papers. This does not diminish his pain and suffering, but it does support the mistaken idea in many children's brains that cows and other farm animals are dangerous. This is silly. Children should be educated by having, if possible, opportunities to visit farms and abattoirs to form an opinion of their own. Bet we'd get a lot more veggies!

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