Are cows really as stupid as we think they are?
Or, "The true confessions of a farm labourer".
I paid my way through uni by mostly working as a labourer on the farms that surrounded my home town, Putaruru, in the South Waikato region. I spent one summer on a dairy farm, milking cows twice a day.
After a week on the job, Frank, the farmer, hands me the job of bringing in the herd for early morning milking. That was exciting; it was a promotion for me and Frank gets to lie in for an extra half hour or so.
So, here's how it goes: At four o'clock in the morning, without a minute to spare, I leap out of bed, eager-as to please the Boss. On my prized Dutch-imported touring bicycle, I furiously pedal down the farm's race to the back paddock where the cows are grazing. I open the gate and call out, "It's milking time, let's get walking!"
They just stand there and look at me as if to be saying, "Who's this dumb-ass?"
I ride into the middle of the paddock, lay my bike on the ground, then run around like a headless chicken, trying to shoo them towards the gate. They don't budge. I wave my hands, jump up and down; I holler louder and louder, and there is no shortage of four-letter words creeping into the one-way conversation. The precious minutes tick by.
I look over at my bike. Several curious cows surround it, obscuring my view. I think nothing of it. I continue my desperate antics, until, to my horror, I realise that, far from just looking at it, they are rear-ending and taking turns pissing and shitting all over my precious possession! They covered my bike in a mass of smelly green-brown excrement!
Unable to speak our lingo, these cows are sending the clearest of messages, in Cow-Speak, of what they think of this young upstart who dares to tell them how to do their job!
I have a hissy-fit tantrum in the middle of the paddock, much to the entertainment of the herd.
Frank putters up to the gate on his farm bike. "Having some trouble there?" he asks with a slight grin. I don't recall what I mumble in reply.
"Come on, girls", he calls and, with that, off he putters off back down the race, the cows dutifully ambling along behind. I know my place; I bring up the rear, pushing my filthy, stinking bike. I am a broken and humiliated young man. The cows have put me in my place. I am at the bottom of the hierarchy; I am the mere itinerant labourer, consigned forever to be at the back of the herd. They broke me. You could say they forced me to cowtow to them.
Frank never said another word about this. To his credit, he did not rub in the humiliation. I was immature and vulnerable back then and would not have handled it well. I have never talked about this to anyone until this day, some 45 years later. I think I am over it now.
Moral of the Story:
Respect is earned, not granted.