SOME COWS

Part of the Urban Herd has been around our suburb lately. These are a few of them outside my back gate:

As you can see the aloes on our pavement have not had much of a chance to grow as they keep getting munched. The red flowers are from the Erythrina caffra, which is now beginning to show a more dense leave cover. The tall spreading tree on the right is a Syringa, which is currently covered with bunches of berries.

Near our front gate is this cow. We call it the New Year Cow’s Calf’s Calf. This is because we know its grandmother – the New Year Cow – as well as its mother, the New Year Cow’s Calf. Sometimes we see all three together. The broad leaves in the foreground come from the Natal Fig in our garden; the tree in the ‘park’ in the background is a Brazilian Pepper; Cradock Road – leading into town from the hinterland – is behind it. A large herd of cattle that often roams the bushy hill, we call the Forest Cows. They also frequent what used to be a golf course.

This is one of those Forest Cows grazing on the edge of the golf course that was abandoned several years ago in favour of a new one created in a very fertile valley on the other side of town. This particular herd is characterised by the number of white animals in it.

Another of the Forest Cows on the old golf course, which is now a favourite place for dog walkers. The white bird is a Cattle Egret that hurried off as soon as I lifted my camera. It might be difficult to imagine golf being played on this area of land that nature is now reclaiming for its own. As you can see, the spiny thorns do not deter this cow from enjoying the spring-fresh leaves.

ROADBLOCKS

We are used to roadblocks in South Africa. These could be the kind requiring you to wait for oncoming traffic to pass through a section of road that is being repaired or a police roadblock during which you are required to show your driver’s licence while they check your vehicle licence and may even make a cursory check of the state of your tyres. These days we have to be increasingly on the lookout for roadblocks caused by the Urban Herd taking a stroll around our town.

Much further afield, only 3km from the Mpofu Nature Reserve in fact, traffic was halted by this herd of cattle that had no intention of moving out of the way in any hurry at all.

Some distance further on, the road was blocked by this herd of sheep being moved from one grazing area to another. Two sheep dogs assisting the shepherd managed to escape being photographed. They were doing an excellent job of keeping the sheep together and on the move in an orderly manner.

We were deep into the farming country of the Kat River district, so it came as no surprise when traffic had to back up while this herd of sheep crossed the narrow bridge – led by three shepherds this time and a single sheepdog (which also slipped away before I could ‘catch’ it) – and made their way through a large gate into a field next to the road.

These are a lot less daunting than this roadblock though!

MOBILE MEALS

We are used to seeing Cattle Egrets darting about in the company of cattle, zebras and buffalo so it is always interesting to see other birds making a meal of the ticks that attach themselves to animals as they walk through the grass. The first of these is a pair of sheep hosting a Fork-tailed Drongo and a Red-billed Oxpecker respectively:

I am always excited to spot an oxpecker around these parts.

Redwinged Starlings are common garden visitors and a large flock of them gather daily in the Natal fig. It was a strange sight, however, to turn a corner in town to find these ones astride a cow while they feasted on ticks:

The sun had already set, so the light is not good yet you can see the russet in the outstretched wings of the bird on the right.

There appeared to be a conflict of views being played out while the cow munched away placidly.

PASTORAL SCENES

This was once the town’s golf course – a new one has been developed in more lush surroundings on the other side of the valley. On this very hot day it hosted part of the Urban Herd we call the Forest Cows. There is no forest here, but this particular herd seem to prefer the bushy hillside as well as grazing on this now open land.

There were about fifty of these animals, accompanied by a busy flock of cattle egrets. All looked peaceful. The scant shade was taken up by as many cows that could fit under the stunted trees. The rest basked in the hot sun.

The different shapes of the horns and the patterns on their hides are interesting.

We call the cow in the foreground The Master Hooter – mainly because we have often seen her apparently calling the herd together by bellowing loudly until they follow her. Meet the V Bull, so named because when he was much younger he sported a crudely scratched V on his flank. This has now stretched to be almost unrecognisable for he is now very large and bulky!

BIRTH IN SUBURBIA

This cow, a member of the expanding Urban Herd, gave birth unaided in the middle of a patch of Senecio flowers growing on some open ground outside some houses in the middle of a suburb.

In no time at all, two local dogs came sniffing around.

The cow was still raw.

Her udder was distended.

While she must have already eaten her placenta, the dogs seemed to be particularly interested in something in the patch of flowers once the cow and her calf had moved away.

By then she had endured enough of their unwelcome attention and nudged her calf towards the relative safety of a nearby park.

We saw them elsewhere in the town a week later: cow and calf appear to be thriving.