Take on Nature: Pitiful bellowing is a far cry from Kavanagh's 'music of milking'
THE pitiful bellowing of a cow carrying over the countryside sounds as if she is in agony, perhaps suffering from an injury. But in all likelihood it is a mother calling for her calf which had been taken from her just a few hours after it was born.
We are dependent on cows for milk, a vital component of the daily diet for many people, whether for our cups of tea, butter for toast, cheese for an omelette, or just a glass of milk before bedtime.
Cow milk has been a staple of our diets for thousands of years but the last few decades have seen the process of extracting milk from cattle become industrialised.
You only have to get caught behind a herd of cattle being taken from a field to a milking shed to see how nature has been distorted to fit the needs of human consumption. Huge swollen udders hanging so low that the cows can hardly walk – is it any wonder that the herd comes impatiently to the gates of the field where they graze at milking time, waiting to be taken to be plugged into huge machines which draw the milk from them and provide a brief respite?
We have bred them to ensure maximum yield and that is why their udders are now so unnaturally large.
It is a long way from the picture painted by Patrick Kavanagh when he writes: “Outside in the cow-house my mother/Made the music of milking”.
The picture of a farm woman milking a handful of cows by hand to feed her family and leave enough for the calves may seem romantic, but it was common just a generation or two ago.
Cows must calve before they can produce milk and to ensure maximum productivity their newborn are taken from them when just a day or two old before they have fully bonded.
Now you know what the anguish is in that plaintiff cow bellow you can often hear in the countryside.
This anguishing about the psychological damage being done to cows and their calves by this unnatural separation so that there is enough cheap milk to fill our supermarket shelves, will of course be smirked at by some as first-world angst.
But in a way that is the nub of the problem – practices which subvert and abuse one of the fundamental principles of nature, a mother bonding with its offspring and the food she produces to feed it being siphoned off for profit, are the norm.
Most people, when they sip their cappuccinos or nibble a chocolate biscuit, will not think about where the products that go into making them came from, or the process that are used in their production.
We get rightly angry about the deliberate setting of forest fires in the Amazon to clear millions of acres of land for farming, the hunting of whales for their meat and oil or elephants and rhinos for their ivory tusks.
But cows, probably because they are so common and taken for granted, don't really register on the barometer of concern for most people.
That is indicative of our disconnect from nature and how we blank out inconvenient truths that might make us face up to our lifestyle choices.
However, next time you are walking in the countryside and hear that wrenching wail carrying over the fields perhaps you will spare a thought for the poor animal who cannot understand where the offspring she carried in her womb for around 40 weeks has gone to and why it does not respond when she calls out to it.