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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
had flawless legs and solid bone traits he passed on to his
offspring, including my Snap.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
the Amigos get bored or want a drink of milk, they return to their
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.
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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