The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia


May 24, 2014

I waited just a little too long for the cows to come home

From The Back Porch column

Dang it! I missed it again.

During those days when I was living in my office, I was too embarrassed to tell people. Some kid at a North Carolina university put himself through graduate school debt-free by living in a van and parking in university lots. He wrote a book and probably made a mil.

I’ve spent my life around cows and never gained much except sprained extremities, an expanding vocabulary of profanity and copious fresh amounts of a certain odorous organic substance on my clothes and shoes.

And now some high-falutin’ author writes about what she knows about cows from watching two YouTube videos and people think she’s a flaming genius.

It just ain’t fair.

Barbara J. King’s latest book is titled “How Animals Grieve.” After I read her so-called insightful essay on the Culture page at, my first thought was, “Well, I’ll be sh--.” Turns out, she wasn’t observing that part of the cow.

King wrote: “For a new book I am just starting to write, I’m researching ways in which scientists study the cognition and emotion of animals ranging from octopuses to goats — and cows. Mostly, I read scientific journals and talk to people with years of experience observing and/or caring for these animals.”

Well put me on your list, honey, especially if you’re paying. Course, down here, we don’t have to talk to people. We know our cows by name and just sidle on up to them for a conversation.

She goes on: “But there is a supplemental source of material (that) is fun to dip into: video clips! They can offer hints about animal thinking, feeling and, in the two cases I’ll present here (with thanks to friends who posted them on Facebook), cow curiosity. Neither clip is new, but both are new to me.”

People, I am not making this up. I’m not smart enough.

She wrote — and no doubt got paid for — her essay about cow curiosity after watching videos that show a pup getting sniffed by a herd of cows and a New Orleans-style jazz band entertaining another.

Stop the presses! Cows are curious?

Anybody who knows anything about cows knows they are curious. They will walk up to just about anything to sniff or lick it. Then they stick their big old tongues up into their noses. It’s called data transfer.

And anybody who knows anything about cows knows they are pretty smart. They have extra-sensory perception. They can read minds.

Cows run in herds, and there’s always a lead cow. Where she goes, the rest will follow. The trick is to get her to go where you want, not where she wants.

I guarantee you that the moment you start trying to move cows and determining where you want them to go, lead cow knows before you do. And she will do her darnedest to make sure not a one of them will follow you or be herded by you.

I can’t count the number of times we’d get a group on the move and within inches of the hole where we wanted to drive them when lead cow would break away in a sadistic game of chase. She knew what she was doing, and she could do it all day.

I’m no Barbara King, but here’s what I think was really happening in those YouTube videos.

In the first one, the cows sniffed the pup to see whether he smelled better than they did. They didn’t have to moo since they can communicate telepathically.

One said, “I don’t recognize that cologne,” to which another answered, “I think it came from a discount store or the cat’s litter box,” to which all the other cows tittered with laughter.

In the second one, the cows meandered up to the jazz band and one said, “I think the tuba player just hit a flat note.”

Another said, “I think I prefer Dixieland over New Orleans-style jazz.”

Another one said, “That trumpet player just missed the downbeat.”

— Young is a Register-Herald freelance columnist and observer of cows. E-mail:  

© Nerissa Young 2014

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