CHARACTERFUL COWS

Over the years the number of cattle making up what I call the Urban Herd has increased; they have split into several herds; sometimes wander off on their own or in smaller groups … one always has to be on the lookout for them. Looking further afield, one place where one wouldn’t usually expect to see a cow is on the beach – like this one in the Transkei:

A more usual place would be on a cattle farm, where this Bonsmara is eating grass whilst staring at me through the fence:

Closer to home, on the industrial road that bypasses the town, are these two calves apparently waiting for attention outside the Stock Theft Unit:

Next to the road leading into town from the industrial road and from the interior is the Bell Cow accompanied by Cattle Egrets. This is the only local cow we have seen here with a bell around its neck – hence its name – and we could often hear her at night. She has not been observed since 2019:

This cow appears to be engaged in conversation with a Cattle Egret whilst lying down in Currie Park – one of several parks in town that are no longer mowed by the municipality, presumably so that there will be grazing for whoever owns the cattle. Perhaps this is what the dispute is about:

Lastly, while driving up George Street, which will take one out of town on the other side, are two cows wandering down – perhaps to make a closer acquaintance with the diverse pleasures of urban hedges and unmown grass verges:

The Urban Herd is alive and well – and expanding rapidly!

CATTLE AND A DELIGHTFUL SURPRISE

We have got to know various members of the Urban Herd quite well over the years and have even named the more familiar among them. Before I return to them let me introduce you to an interesting South African breed of cattle called Bonsmara. Here are a few on a cattle farm in the Lothians area.

These reddish-looking cattle are the result of an extensive scientific breeding programme conducted by Professor Jan Bonsma from the Department of Agriculture to produce cattle that are well adapted to a sub-tropical climate; that will calve every year; and will produce good quality beef. The name is a combination of the name of the professor and ‘Mara’, the experimental farm on which they were bred. They animals have the attributes of both Bos indicus and Bos Taurus. Why this should make any difference I don’t know, but in order to conform to breed standards these cattle have to be de-horned!

Back to the Urban Herd. Look at the lovely shape of the horns on a cow we call The Master Hooter.

There are some interesting aspects about her, one of which you may have noticed is that, apart from an identifying notch in her ear, there is also a hole. Perhaps too many other cows have simple notches, although the pattern on the hide of this one is distinctive.

The other is that at some stage she lost the tuft at the end of her tail. The Urban Herd wander all over town and beyond, so who knows – it may have been grabbed by a dog or caught in a fence …

At this stage she and her companions are grazing along the road of our ‘industrial area’ on the edge of town. Behind her is a calf, sired no doubt by the Arctic Bull – who has sowed his wild oats across many of the Urban Herd cows!

Wait! Did you spot something interesting on the back of that calf? It looks equally interested and I felt ecstatic:

Red-billed Oxpeckers! How very exciting it is to spot these so close to home!

Cattle Egrets are the more usual companions of the Urban Herd, wherever they happen to wander.

Lastly, here is The Master Hooter’s Sister:

ELEVEN EGRETS

Cattle Egrets (Bubulcus ibis) are a common sight here, especially since the occasional appearance of the Urban Herd became permanent. Interestingly, Bubulcus is the Latin word for ‘herdsman’ – they certainly do appear to keep a close eye on their ‘charges’ and their relationship with cattle, buffalo, and even zebra are interesting to observe. Each animal appears to have an egret in attendance, ready to pounce on insects flushed by these large animals as they move through the grass. I have occasionally seen an egret pecking at ticks on the tip of a cow’s tail. They are also known to feed on frogs, small mammals, worms and eggs.

These are elegant looking birds, both on the ground and especially when they catch the late afternoon sun when in flight home to their communal roosting spots. I see them flying over our garden singly, in twos or threes, and sometimes many of them together. The tree in which many of them used to roost in town was cut down in an effort to get rid of them, so I am not sure where they go, although they have been recorded as flying up to 20km to their feeding areas.

These ones appear to be resting from their labours. If you look very closely, you may count more than the alliterative eleven basking in the late afternoon sun.

EARTH DAY 2020

Does one say ‘Happy Earth Day?’ Can it be a happy Earth Day when the planet is mantled by an unseen enemy that has brought the world’s population to its knees, caused hunger, uncertainty, fear, suspicion and concern to the fore on a scale that no climate change warnings, earthquakes, tsunamis or volcanoes have managed to do? The spread of the COVID-19 virus has isolated us, caused us to look inwards, to contemplate where we are, what we do and to question our future.

There is much to celebrate and Earth Day is an opportunity to focus on those good things: biodiversity, water, clean(er) air … life, living, loving, and caring for and about others – these are aspects that the down time the virus has brought to us. Time to think about the food we eat, where it comes from, what we eat, how much food we really need, how to be innovative about making meals from food we already have at home instead making a needless trip to the local supermarket.

The internet abounds with ideas on how to cook / bake with ever fewer ingredients; how versatile other ingredients can be as substitutes for those we have run out of. Are we eating less / more healthy food / snacking less? Those with gardens appear to be appreciating them more – I certainly do – and have greater empathy for those who do not.

Earth Day this year is one of contemplation and appreciation. As we have been housebound for 27 days now I look back with a sense of nostalgia to various trips we have undertaken to game reserves in South Africa – at the time, never doubting that we could return whenever we had both the time and the resources to get there. The virus had other ideas.

We do not have to travel very far to observe Cattle Egrets as flocks of them follow the Urban Herd around all day and many fly over our garden at the end of each day on their way to perch in one of the tall trees near the centre of town.

Ostriches are always a delight to see in the various game reserves we have visited in the country. We used to see a lot more being farmed around here – South Africa provides 60% of the ostrich-meat supply market despite farmers having to battle with problems such as drought and avian influenza – which has made these birds very familiar over time. They are still wondrous to see in the wild.

Now we can only imagine and remember the joy of driving round the corner of a dirt road to meet an Elephant and her calf walking towards us.

When will I see a Waterbuck again?

Or Impala grazing in the rain?

Or a Lioness looking at me contemplatively?

These and all the other birds and animals will still be there when we are ‘free’ again. I remain thankful for that.

Enjoy Earth Day in your own way.