EVENT REVIEW: Rosamund Young: The Secret Life of Cows

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13th October, 2018

Durham Town Hall

Review by Gabriel Brown

I have never given much thought to the lives of everyday animals. In this case: cows. This talk by Rosamund Young was my last event of the festival, and although it came with that bittersweet and final feeling, it was a great event to round out my time reviewing this year. As with my previous event with Kate Mosse, I went in completely blind to the material, but what followed was both an informative and enjoyable talk. 

After an enthusiastic introduction by Marian Foster, Rosamund told us about her early life growing up with her father and eight cows. It seems as though cows were destined to be a part of her life; indeed her mother decided to marry her father after seeing how nice he was to them – the first person she had met to treat animals in this way.

She shared that she had realised early on that cows have personalities. I’m open to learning new things, but admit I was somewhat skeptical to hear this! Rosamund explained further though – with her first example being a cow called Susan from her childhood farm. Susan was the only cow in the herd which you had to walk behind, because if you walked in front of her, she would knock you over. Rosamund told us that cows also enjoy playing hide–and–seek; and often walk behind trees as though hiding from her. Little examples like this solidified my belief that cows are more unique than we give them credit. 

The event was very informative about other animals and topics too. Rosamund explained how necessary grazing is; if you don’t graze animals, often you cannot use the land, as the fields are too steep to grow anything but grass on them. Small revelations such as these were incredibly insightful to me, as I have often wondered why fields of grass are not used for anything else. Now I know.

The event opened my eyes to certain aspects of farming and the daily life of farm animals. For example Rosamund told the audience about the practice of breeding chickens so quickly that they outgrow their skeletons, and theorised that the reason that cows don’t use their horns when fighting is because of their chivalrous nature.

I was particularly interested by some land Young spoke of which has been allowed to ‘go native’: a plot of uncultivated grazing land 3500 acres across. Even though the the animals had had never been there before, the pigs knew to dive into the lakes to develop their muscles. ‘How do they know they are there?’ Rosamund asks. Whilst I would guess survival instinct, it does intrigue me, and I will be researching this further!

Young says she now has the writing bug, and is keeping a diary of the things that happen with her animals. With the potential of another book on the horizon, this is an author I will be keeping a much closer eye on after such an informative event.

This work was produced by participants on our Durham Book Festival Reviewers in Residence programme, a cultural journalism programme run by New Writing North Young Writers. Reviewers in Residence gives aspiring journalists aged 15-23 the chance to review books, attend events and interview authors at the Durham Book Festival. For more information about New Writing North Young Writers visit the New Writing North website.