How good it is to have animals back on the land around us. It seems decades since we had their company; the last sheep disappeared with the foot and mouth calamity of 2001. Since then only the birds have broken the silence of the fields.
Suddenly last summer we heard the beefy bellowing of cattle from across the valley. I had wondered why expensive-looking fencing was going up round fields that had been monotonously arable for twenty or thirty years. A substantial herd has now transformed the landscape on the other side of the stream I follow on my daily walk. Now I realize how much I’ve been missing four-legged country company.
We tend to commune down at their watering place, by the stump of a huge old silver willow. I had wondered why the farmer had suddenly summoned the energy to cut it down. Constable wouldn’t have approved; the beasts in its shade would have made just the sort of vignette he loved to draw. Perhaps the roots threatened to block the land-drains feeding the drinking-hole. We meet there and stare at each other in the afternoon for half an hour at a time.They’re eating mangel wurzels now – and a great deal of mud, too, it seems, as they muzzle round looking for bits of root.
The voices of cows sometimes remind me of trucks and sometimes of trains; American trains in particular. Then the other day it dawned on me what they are actually imitating. A neighbour started up a chainsaw. Minutes later one cow took up the chorus ; then another. Close to, their efforts seem absurd ; a pointless waste of effort. But heard from half a mile away in the garden they speak of centuries of rural continuity, the ancestral cud of England. Then I love them.