The Secret Life of Cows – Rosamund Young

34210873This is a really tricky book for me to review. It’s a book by a farmer, and I am vegan. I expected this could be a struggle. It sort of is and it isn’t. It’s a book of conflicting ideas and juxtapositions of thought.

The author makes a lot of points I would agree with. This is especially true of the introduction section in which Young states that ‘Bovine needs are in many respects the same as human ones: freedom from stress, adequate shelter, pure food and water, liberty to exercise, to wander about, to go for a walk or just to stand and stare’. I totally agree and that seems reasonable to me. Where I struggle, and this is a recurring difficulty in the book, is in the fact that the author, from years of experience, can make those observations, then draw the conclusion that it is somehow OK to kill them.

We are told that ‘We should presume that every animal has a limitless ability to experience a whole range of emotions’ and subsequently told many short stories showing the range of emotions, caring and intelligence displayed by the animals within them. The book allows you to build an affinity for the animals in each story and believe them to be sentient beings capable of many of the same things any human would be, yet we have to read all this in the knowledge that each character is set to be murdered and that we should feel OK about that.

And here’s the thing, I am not sure that even the writer here believes that it is all that OK to kill the animals in her care. An awful lot of this book is little anecdotes about specific, named, animals. You get a sense that the person writing it really does form an attachment with their animals.It is odd then, to note that so little mention is made of the bit where they have to go away. We get a lot about births, their early life, some of them being parents and the bonds they make, but no mention of sadness or loss. Yet we know that has to be happening.

I give this book credit for the fact that it is readable and has interesting aspects to it. I cannot state that I disliked the book and I am glad that I read it. I struggle to give this a very high score however, because it is lacking in a sense of finality or conclusion. Are we supposed to just read each story and shrug at all the characters being killed after the book is done? I found that a little tricky. I am surprised that isn’t the same conclusion drawn by the author.

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