Saturday 29 August 2020

Of Cows and other beings.


The cows on Go Puja day.

How little do we actually know about all the animals around us! Among the creatures whom we ‘own’ as pets, the obvious things like their food-habits, their likes and dislikes are easily understood.  The intelligence of dogs, specially the ones that are working dogs,  guide dogs etc has always been acclaimed and acknowledged. But what about the multitude of other creatures around us?

When we moved to the farm, we actually knew next to nothing about cows and buffaloes. To these bovines too, we must have seemed rather strange.  Fortunately our farm-hand was the only continuing familiar link for them.  One of the first things we noticed was that the cows always greeted him with their loud ‘hummaaaaeee’. We could hear their sound all the way from the cowshed to the kitchen and little later, he would be at the kitchen door to take the milk vessels.  I realised that the bellowing would start as soon as he crossed the boundary and entered the farm.  He used to come in through a short-cut entering the rice-field beyond the arecanut plantation, so it was quite a distance away, yet the cows would know.

Can you spot the narrow Donappa or entrance at the far end?

Bit by bit we have started realising and understanding bovine behaviour and are amazed by their intelligence.

After the cows are milked, they are all left free to graze in the forest near our house. By 3 pm, they are all assembled outside the gate waiting to be let in. Do they have an inbuilt clock?  

Waiting outside the gate.

Except for the rare occurence  of Bhairav falling in a well or Kaveri playing truant in our first week at the farm and wandering far from home (was she in search of the previous owner? ), all of them wait patiently outside the gate. The gate is quite a distance from the cowshed, but the minute the older ones are at the gate, the young calves who are in the cowshed, yell out their greetings and their mothers respond.  How do they know that their mothers have returned and are waiting at a spot  almost 200 feet away and  not visible from the cowshed?  When the gate is opened, they all troop in, the mothers greet their calves with a nuzzle and then stand in their allocated spots waiting to be tied. They are always tied in the same spots and that is where they go and stand!

The fact that each animal always recognises its own young one even from a group is well known, but the fact that cows have the power to release or ‘let-down’ their milk at will is something that we experienced here. Last February, two of them – Kaveri and Shabari calved within just 10 days of each other. Little Kamini  and Shabari’s Jairam looked like identical twins and we could scarcely tell them apart. Vivek would milk the cows and then leave the calves free to drink some more and romp around in the cow shed. We would then tie them back in their spots after about an hour. That day just as I went in to tie them, I heard someone arrive at the gate. So, in a hurry, without checking which one was Jairam and which one was Kamini, I inadvertently tied them in each other’s place. That evening Vivek first took Jairam thinking it was Kaveri’s calf ‘Kamini’ and led him to Kaveri. The little one nuzzled and nudged and butted with his tiny head, tried to suckle, butted again and then turned away listlessly. Vivek was puzzled by his behaviour, but thought that maybe after he milked Kaveri, the little calf would be in a mood to drink. But when he tried to milk her, there wasn’t a drop of milk. He gave up after some attempts, and then decided to milk Shabari instead. But when the second calf- Kamini went to nuzzle Shabari, she turned around and butted the calf and stomped her feet and wouldn’t let the calf come near. This was even more puzzling, Then he looked closely  and realised that the calves had been switched. He promptly led Kamini to Kaveri, and everything was Ok then and he could milk both of them without a problem. He came back and narrated the incident and said “Did you switch their places when you tied them this morning?”.  That’s when I remembered that I had tied them in a hurry without  checking.  So that meant that Kaveri had refused to let down her milk until the right calf was brought to her and Shabari showed her displeasure when the wrong calf was brought to her!

Jairam and Kamini  - bet you can't tell us apart

 The majestic buffaloes have their quirks too!  When they are left out to graze, they are not keen on going along with the cows – they prefer to join their own kind.  We found it very amusing when Madhubala would make strange hrmfff hrmfff  sounds as she walked out of the cowshed towards the gate and each sound would be answered by a similar sound by our neighbours buffalo who would be let out at around the same time.  The hrmff’s would shuttle back and forth until the two came face to face at the corner just beyond the gate and then they would trudge ahead together.

The calves love a cuddle.....and a huddle

The dogs, apart from being able to recognise and differentiate between our cows and the neighbour’s always have a special way of greeting the new born calves.  They troop into the cowshed and ever so gently nuzzle the calf as if to say ‘Welcome to the world!’  Cobol takes it on himself to protect the young calf and you will often find him sitting next to the calf in the cowshed.

Cobol sitting with a day old Somvati

Memories of another day - Misty  and Anandi when she was just a few days old.

Kippi our cat has warned us of the presence of a snake more often than once.  She often snuggles close by at night and you can scarcely notice when she sneaks in or out of  the mosquito net.  But one night, she woke us up by jumping on Vivek and then racing to the corner of the room with a loud meowwrrrr.  And she seemed to be trying to get at something behind  a large wooden box which holds our matresses.  Vivek flashed the torch and noticed the snake.  It looked like a krait.  We would have never noticed it had it not been for kippi’s warning.   

Kippi spots something interesting on the wall.

Small incidents, but they disclose such a wealth of information about our beloved animals, all we can do is observe and learn.  

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