I was quite struck with the idea of finding out more about ‘The Secret Life of Cows’. I have long believed that animals, are much more clever and in touch with their own feelings, needs and desires than humans- think rescue dogs, sniffer dogs etc. There are also stories of animals having advanced warning of earthquakes, cows lying down before it rains to preserve their patch of grass and animals rescuing humans. All in all, I was really looking forward to reading this book.
Overall the book is a straightforward, easy read. Most of the book focuses on amusing anecdotes of life with the animals- my particular favourite is one of Jim tiptoeing over a cattle grid to get to his friends. There are also poems and sections on the life of sheep and chickens.
What I thought let the book down was the fact that the book is not structured into chapters. In the foreword Rosamund suggests she has done this deliberately. For me, it made some of the stories lack context and it felt like the book was hopping from one thing to the next and I found it difficult at times to remember which cow was related to which (as often the family ties of the cows are central to that particular story). There were also rants about 'modern farming' which disrupted the tone, and felt, at times, rather self indulgent. There is not a 'one size fits all' approach to anything in life, let alone UK agriculture.
The idea that has stayed with me from reading the book is the emphasis that animals are individuals and have different personalities to others in the herd. The reason why we don’t see their individual traits and likes/dislikes is more because of the way the modern farming system is structured for economies of scale, rather than the fact that they don’t exist. This makes a lot of sense. If you have a small holding with a handful of animals, chances are you can talk at length about their idiosyncracies of each individual animal, compared to if you had 100’s in a herd with less time spent observing each one. Interestingly, I read Osho’s ‘Intuition’ today and it mentioned a similar idea when talking about society:
‘The person who is born to be a poet is proving himself stupid in mathematics, and the person who could have been a great mathematician is just cramming history and feeling lost. Everything is topsy turvy as education is not according to your nature’.
And a little later down the page:
‘Society wants you to be obedient, conformist and orthodox. This is how your intelligence is destroyed’.
I wholeheartedly believe in these ideas e.g. everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses, so being like everybody else, is not only boring, but its going against your very nature, your very spark to be different, to be yourself. It’s a little like the film ‘Good Will Hunting’. The film focuses on the journey of a very gifted mathematician finding himself and figuring out what he wants out of life. Part of this is about realising his differences from his best friend. Will wanted to be the type of person that would stay in the same area, get married in that same area and take his children to little league games with his best friend being there day-day for every milestone, but his very nature is against this and his friend points this fact out to him- he isn’t like them, no matter how much he wants to be. He isn’t part of that particular herd. Animals, like young children, don’t try and hide their nature, they are who they are and I think both Rosamund Young and Osho’s message of embracing your individuality is an important reminder of this.