Cowed: A Book Review

imagesCowed:  The Hidden Impact of 93 million Cows on America’s Health, Economy, Politics, Culture and Environment, 

Denis Hayes and Gail Boyer Hayes

Do Cows hibernate Dad? asked one of my sons a decade or so ago when we moved into rural Lancashire, noticing that cows were absent in the fields during winter months and as then not aware of the noisy, steamy and rather smelly over wintering cow sheds. One of the rural spring treats which we will witness soon, is when the cows are let out into the spring green fields, where they literally can jump for joy like spring lambs. the word cavorting* would seem invited for just this occasion.

Cowed is an entertaining and educating insight into the American relationship with its cattle, triggered by the authors visit in the UK and noticing how very different cattle in UK fields appeared to that seen or indeed out of sight in the US.

From Cowboys through to intelligent, mechanised milking, Denis and Gail provide real insights from their environmentalism knowledge, (Denis was cofounder of Earthday in the 70’s, now founder /CEO of the Bullitt Foundation in Seattle and a recent guest on our #sustldrconv series,  Gail is an Environmental lawyer, health writer and editor)

Throughout, I was reminded of John Muir’s comment that ‘when we tug on one part of nature we find it joined to everything else”, This may be as on the day I started reading Cowed, I visited a botanical garden in Vancouver where this quote was engraved into the floor and entrance screens.

Nevertheless, for me it summed up one of Cowed’s core themes. That the Cow, which we have removed from natural habituation and domesticated or rather industricated, is now so intrinsically linked to so many aspects of our lives from food to furniture and in doing so, uncoupled from its natural connections and bio-relationship with soil, air and water.

Cowed provided, for me a straightforward  explanation of the recent research, debate and controversy on natural cattle grazing patterns and impact for soil carbon sequestration based around the work of Allan Savory. This is something I had come across before on a TED talk but poorly understood.

Living in rural Lancashire I easily recognised the description of dairy farming within the first few pages, but I struggled to recognise the US description of cattle management in the remainder of the book, perhaps with the exception of the cattle ranching images from old Westerns!. Yet Cowed does highlight issues we here in the UK need to be aware of and guard against as concepts of mega farms are proposed and debated here.

*to jump or move around in a playful way, sometimes noisily, and often in a sexual way

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