The Secret Life of Cows – An Udderly Charming Little Book
By Iona Freeman - a forth year vet student from RVC whose current interests include avoiding her research project at all costs.
The Secret Life of Cows was first published in 2003, but it wasn’t until last year when it was re-issued with an eye-catching cover that it became a major sensation with vet students across the country receiving one in their stockings. The book is a charming collection of personal anecdotes from Rosamund Young and her cattle farm in the Cotswolds. She knows the cows individually and can tell which cow has produced the milk in her tea by the taste alone. The book itself is a beauty and would look good on any shelf; the inside is decorated with a “family tree” highlighting the links that connect her herd and the shared history between her and her cows. Most cows are descendants of the original herd and the names themselves are notable with Fat Hat, Fat Hat II and Popette being a few examples.
While many of the stories concern determined mothers and missing calves, one of the the most endearing is about Meg, calf to Wizzie who according to Young ‘told her daughter she was the best and the calf believed her’. Once winter and the inevitable mud set in, Meg is described as hating getting muddy feet and one night managed to climb a flight of narrow steps to the top of a granary store to avoid the mud below. She spent the night in great splendour and then taught two other cows the same trick. After spending many cold days and nights in barns over AHEMS I’m sure many of us can sympathise with Meg.
My favourite story from the book is actually about a lamb, Audrey, and a pig, Piggy, (although her full name was Gayle Elspeth Rosie) who were firm friends and would graze together all day. Apparently, if Piggy was late to the meeting point Audrey would go to her sty and wake her up by tapping her with her hoof.
These stories are the real draw behind this book and written in Young’s easy-to-read style, it is a great book to dip in and out of if you’re busy with University or placements (added bonus it’s only 133 pages). All the stories are self-contained so it’s great if, like me, you become a part-time reader during term time. It feels at times like a nostalgic Disney film, and is a fascinating account of a unique, organic beef farm in the British countryside in 2017.
Whilst Young presents an simplistic view of the modern beef industry, I felt there was a bit of subtle condemnation of a ‘normal’ beef enterprise. Whilst I’m sure they can learn from her, I think she could probably learn from them as well.
The Secret Life of Cows is a great book if you’re looking for a quick read or a present for family, friends, or any bovine buddies you may have. It definitely left me wanting more and with a greater respect for these amazing animals.