Cows are intelligent, loving, sometimes kind and admirable, but should we still eat them? A look into Rosamund Young’s book, The Secret Life of Cow, tells many beautiful things about the ruminant animals. When Young was 13, she brought some young cows back to their main herd after a summer in a distant grazing field and remembers noticing how one stood intently “talking” to her mother. “I thought, crikey, they’ve missed each other,” she says. “We didn’t know they even knew each other because that calf had been taken from its mother at birth. In those days we were not as sensitive to their needs. Gradually it dawned on me. That was what farming life was, you just farmed and noticed things.”
If given liberty, cows form intense friendships. They communicate with people, invent games, babysit, forecast the weather and open closed gates. They can even self-medicate, choosing to eat certain plants when poorly. Sometimes, cows refuse to be bullied and react to intruders amidst the herd. For the Fulani, cows are not economic props alone but form intense part of their existence. They are given names and tended for generations, not for sales alone but for it is beauty, part of cultural existence.
Down South in Nigeria, the story is entirely different, basically for consumption. The Secret Life of Cows may be full of life but it is coy about death. J. P. Clark provides poetic insight into this through his poem titled ‘Fulani Cattle’. Cows are slaughtered to grace food at different social functions. Even when their stories are filled with fatality being a vegetarian doesn’t do anything for animal welfare. If you become an abattoir owner and make sure animals are killed well then you’re doing something for animal welfare, but just giving up meat you’re not.