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Submitted April 15, 2019


5 Ways to Talk to a Cow

How to speak Moo-lish

Saying, "Hello," to a Scottish Highlander heifer

(photo courtesy of S. Laughlin)


While humans have words to express our feelings, a cow's vocabulary is also extensive. Mooing is one way bovines “talk.” You might think that one moo fits-all but not so. The soft chortle-moo of a mother talking to her baby is distinct from the growling-moo of one bull challenging another which differs from impatient-moos of cows waiting to be fed. Continuous moos at 2am in the morning usually means a mother is calling to a missing baby


Mooing typically means distress because cows only vocalize after non-verbal communication fails. The best way to speak “Cow” or “Moo-lish” is to learn body-language. Is her head lowered, did she swing her horns at you, or did she kick? I've provided five more obvious cow-language behaviors that I've observed.


1) Saying, “Hello.” When two cows meet they stretch their necks and sniff the other. Humans can mimick that behavior by holding out a hand just a few inches in front of the cow's nose. Cows are currious and will often step forward to sniff the out-stretched hand. Let the cow come to you, don't break the spell by reaching at the last minute to touch her nose. Think about it, when you first meet someone, would you like them to stroke your nose? Didn't think so. Be polite, let the cow make the first move.


2) “I don't want to talk.” Some cows want to socialize, some don't. If you've said, “Hello,” and the cow swings her head at you as if she was brushing you off, leave her alone. She doesn't want to talk right then so say hello to another cow.


3) “I like that.” Cows love back scratches. Even the meanest cow will dip her head to the ground and stand still if you scratch her back. She especially enjoys scratching in those spots her horns can't reach like the top of her tail or the middle of her back. Cow's hides are thick and a deep scratch or massage will win her heart.


4) “More scratches.” Besides back-scratches, cows love chest rubs. Topper, one of my oxen, will search me out when I'm in the field. He'll rest his head on my shoulder while I rub his brisket.


5) Kicking. All cows will kick if startled.  Everyone has a “blind-spot” and with cows it's behind them. When you walk up to her, don't startle her. Say, “Hi Bessie, I'm behind you.” Then move to her side so she can see you. If you don't want to be kicked, don't startle the cow.


There are other ways to communicate with cattle and the best teacher is observation. Come to the farm on April 13th from 11am-3pm to start you cow-language education. You can watch a cow, try any one of these techinques and even learn new ones. My cows will be grateful if you know their language, but they will also be pleased if you bring carrots.



Submitted April 8, 2019


Aristocrats of the Horse World

Rudy-dillo, a plush armadillo we adopted in San Antonio, rides a thoroughbred foal statue. Triple-Crown winner, Secretariat's statue is in the background at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington.


Rudy-dillo gazes at Man o' War's life size statue at the Kentucky Horse Park. Man o' War is related to my horse, Snap.

On a recent road trip, husband Bruce and I stopped in Lexington to visit the Kentucky Horse Park, a 1,224-acre working horse farm and educational theme park. International horse competitions are held on the grounds as well as daily equine demonstrations. We were there to see the sculpture of racehorse Man o' War which stands life-like on a pedestal near the gift shop.


You might know Man o' War as a famous thoroughbred, but my gelding here in New Hampshire knows him as “Grandpa.” Well, more like great-great-great-grandpa. Born in 1917, “Big Red” (his nickname), was one of the greatest racehorses of all time. After he won 20 of 21 races in the 1920s, he became a leading sire whose off-spring included Triple Crown winner War Admiral and the much-celebrated Seabiscuit.  My 14-year-old gelding, Snap, is a direct descendant of Man o' War, and while he has never raced, he has a lot in common with his ancestor.


Big Red was a talented but difficult horse. In his youth he would routinely dump exercise riders, once running free for more than 15 minutes after a morning workout. His trainer, Louis Feustel, channeled that energy, molding him into a world-famous champion who attracted more than 1.5 million people over his lifetime. Big Red also developed a close relationship with his groom, Will Harbut, and died a few months after Will in 1947.


Big Red had flawless legs and solid bone traits he passed on to his offspring, including my Snap.


He also passed on other, not-so-desirable traits. Snap is purebred, and just like purebred dogs, he has issues. Racehorses were bred for speed only – not health or geniality. Two of my other horses, Moose and Chester, are “mutts,” cross-bred for durability, not speed. Both are sturdy and never get sick while purebred Snap often requires medical care. Three months ago he contracted an abscess in his hoof. An abscess is painful, but I think Snap played his pain like a skilled actor. He lay on the ground, moaning until farrier Bethany Polston was able to scoop out the infection.


He is prone to colic, too. That's an intestinal blockage that can be fatal to horses, partly because they are unable to vomit like the rest of us. I've raised horses since 1992 but never had a beast like Snap who, one year, suffered colic four.  A few times his colic was so severe that expensive veterinary assistance was required. Today his colic is less frequent, but I still maintain a supply of Banamine, an aspirin-like paste to relieve mild intestinal trouble.


But Snap is much more than a rack of pain. He is an aristocrat. I'm sure he gets his lordly attitude from Big Red. Snap often stands still, gazing off into the distance, a posture described as “the look of eagles." As the dominant equine, Snap keeps my three other horses in line. He once chased a pony named Chester through a wire fence, which sliced up Chester's right hind leg. He recovered, but keeps his distance from His Majesty. Bruce calls Snap "difficult,” but he calls me that, too.  I just say Snap has “character.”


Despite his aggression to the other horses, Snap is my best-trained steed. He learns new commands quickly and stands stock-still as I hoist my 67-year-old body into the saddle. (I'm not as agile as I used to be.) Except for spooking at the occasional boulder, he is energetic but well-behaved on trail rides. Snap is a fun horse to ride.  I'll credit that to Big Red – along with his iffy health.


After Lexington, we headed to Gettysburg. While driving, Bruce and I listened to an audiobook about the Civil War battlefield and were eager to see it. Gettysburg was a killing field for thousands of men and for the dreams of Confederates, but let's not forget the thousands of unfortunate horses caught in the middle of this human conflict.



Submitted March 31, 2019


Fences Are a Joke to The Three Amigos

Sometimes I envy crop farmers. Their corn and potatoes do not steal food from the apple trees, then run around the farm looking for trouble. But neither do they provide entertainment.


Ferdinand is a white Scottish Highlander calf. Such calves typically weigh 60 to 80 pounds at birth. Ferdinand weighed only 40 pounds. But what an energetic 40 pounds! At first, I worried because he was small that he'd also be weak, but within days of his birth, he charged around the field, investigating every twig and rock. When wild turkeys walked through his pasture, he would chase them, wanting to play. Always on the lookout for fun, he'd engage older calves, chasing them or being chased. He was a free and energetic spirit.


Ferdinand quickly realized that, because he was small, he could duck under the electric fence without getting zapped. Then he'd wander around the barnyard, exploring its possibilities. His mom, Brittany, watched him from the confines of the pasture and if she lost sight of him, she'd moo for his return. After a few months, Brittany ended her vigil. She either gave up or just trusted he would return.


Calves develop friendships, and soon he convinced pasture-mates Allie and Lorna to join him. He taught them to go under the wire and check out the chicken coop, or munch on hay in the feed bunker. The feed bunker is a sturdy, concrete structure where the dry hay and other feed is stored and served. Cattle belong outside the bunker; they have to reach in when food is served. Every morning we'd straighten up the small bales of hay the calves pulled down and clean up the manure deposited where it shouldn't be.


We call those calves “The Three Amigos.” Their ages range from 6 to 10 months, with Ferdinand the youngest and smallest. Although he is their leader, he is also capable of acting alone.


Every morning we let the chickens out and leave the coop door open so the birds can return during the day to eat or (hopefully) lay eggs. Until recently Ferdinand would start each day waiting outside the coop staring at the closed door, willing it to open so he could squeeze inside and help himself to the chicken feed.


Then he'd go spend the rest of the day with his gal pals, all of them slipping under the electric wire, willing to risk a shock for the pleasure of roaming freely around the farm.


This freedom allows the Amigos available to come running when we serve veggie scraps. We distribute bruised and out of date produce, collected twice a week from Shaw's in Gilford, to the cows who gather outside the feed bunker. While they follow the rules and poke their heads in to eat, the three partners in crime stand inside the bunker, ready to snatch pineapple skins and melon rinds that fall out of the reach of the bigger animals.


When the Amigos get bored or want a drink of milk, they return to their mothers' pasture.


It's a good thing the older cattle don't plunge through our fences. It's one thing to have calves walking around the yard, but if 1,400-pound Stash or Topper ran free, that would be a problem.


Soon we'll have to wean the three delinquents and train them to respect the electric fence. We did chain the chicken coop door to protect the feed, but for a while yet I'm going to savor the joyous spectacle of the three calves kicking up their heels and bouncing across the lawn like kids at recess. Youth is fleeting and should be celebrated fully, don't you think?


Carole Soule is co-owner of Miles Smith Farm, where she raises and sells pastured pork, lamb, eggs and grassfed beef. She can be reached at




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