AN URBAN BRAHMAN

A section of the Urban Herd has been joined by a new bull to sire future calves – a Brahman no less.

He was striding along the industrial road in the direction of the N2.

I mean really striding – at a pace that some of the cows with him were hard-pressed to keep up with. Look at the enormous hump above his shoulders and his characteristically light to dark grey coat.

His pronounced dewlap swung from side to side as this large animal strode along the edge of the road. This one is clearly not a pedigree, nonetheless as a member of the Brahman breed, he is a long way from home: Brahman cattle originated from the Bos indicus found in India. Brahman cattle were introduced as a commercial breed in South Africa in 1957, although the first of these cattle arrived here three years earlier. They are well adapted to climatic conditions in this country.

SUNSET COWS

A small section of a herd of cows blocked the road on my home at sunset yesterday.

They appeared to be gathering for the evening as some emerged from the veld on the right, while others had been walking along the verge on the left. There is no point trying to rush them for they pay scant attention to vehicles.

This one sports muddy socks, having come from the puddle of water you might see shining on the left, behind it. They all walked with a common purpose as if they knew where they were heading for.

This is an offspring of the Master Hooter’s sister striding along in the fading light. You can see the faint ‘rib’ patterns of the mother, featured below.

A clear view of the Master Hooter’s sister with the clear ‘rib’ patterns on her side. She sports impressive horns.

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!

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.

LOCAL CATTLE

We have become so used to finding scattered herds of cattle – what I call the Urban Herd – all over town that it was most surprising to find they had all disappeared over the festive season. Where could they have got to? My guess is that the owners may have rounded them all up to count them – so many calves have been born since the end of November that it wouldn’t surprise me if it was time to take stock. Of course there were no roaming cattle when we first arrived here; the first ones were a curiosity, a nuisance, and were regarded as a danger to traffic and destroyers of gardens and public parks. Perhaps the drought or simply familiarity softened our collective stance – we actually missed their presence! Wherever they went, the Urban Herd is slowly returning to our suburbs and to the so-called industrial area (there is virtually no industry here) on the outskirts of town.

We have dubbed this the Forest Herd as they frequent the old golf course and the hillside below the army base, only occasionally venturing down as far as the open ground below our home. I have taken a few head shots. The first is of a cow I last saw at the old golf course before Christmas.

She is easily recognised by her distinctive facial pattern and the shape of her horns. Notice the notch in her ear, which must indicate who her owner is. The horns of this one are admirable.

She too has a notch in her ear. I am rather surprised by the grey flecks on her face – another dark cow also looked grizzled, as if they were showing an advanced age. One cannot forget a pair of horns like this:

This one appears to have slight notches in both her ears – another subtle indication of ownership.

Driving along the Highlands road towards the stone bridge I have featured, we pass several cattle farms. These two Ngunis (a breed of cattle indigenous to southern Africa) caught my eye:

The patterns on their hides are incredibly beautiful.