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Hateful Mary Grace and Other Characters

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Cattle are individuals. Any farmer can tell you that. I've spent time recently hanging over the fence on the Warren property, watching Jeff and Jay work with their cattle. I find it fascinating because each animal requires a different approach, based on its temperament. This is Mary Grace. Her name is usually prefaced by the word Hateful. So she's Hateful Mary Grace. Or Mary Grace You Worthless Ol' Blister. When Mary Grace has a new calf, the Warrens don't even go in the corral with her. You can see how she pins her ears back and rolls her eyes. That body language is pretty universal in the animal world. She can throw a kick like lightning.
This is beautiful gray Betty. She's boss cow of the small herd. Betty had a calf this spring who looks like a little gray mouse. What a gorgeous little thing! Wonder if she'll grow up to be nice or hateful?Jay and Jeff were assessing the cattle, trying to guess which would be the next one to drop her calf. They were making reference to "loosening up" and "bagging up" which mean, respectively, the softening of the cartilage in the pelvis just prior to delivery, and the swelling of the udder, both signs that birth is imminent. As someone who has both loosened and bagged up, twice, I can empathize with these girls. Imagine standing around in cold mud when you're about to deliver. Jay and Jeff try to make sure the cattle are in the corral by the barn so they'll have shelter nearby before they calve, especially if cold rain will be falling.

If I had time, I would probably hang over the Warrens' fence around the clock in calving time.
They showed me a cat nest in the barn, a nice deep bowl in the hay, like a rabbit nest. I'd never seen a cat nest like that. The mother left reluctantly to reveal two babies. The little gray kitten was hissing madly, trying to scare me away, while the black one hid its face. Individuals. All animals are individuals. Scientists are just now trying to establish that fact with quantifiable, reproducible studies. We're all such saps for saying our dogs or our cattle have personalities. Brilliant Chet Baker, Bossy Betty and Hateful Mary Grace are figments of our collective imagination. Better to start working with fruit flies, which nobody could argue have individual personalities. So somebody has shown that some fruit flies are more aggressive and "bossy" than others. It's a start. But those of us who live among animals know it's a lot more complex than that. News flash: Hominids aren't the only ones out there who think and feel, who chart their own individual course on the planet. And not everything can be quantified or reproduced. And that's OK with those of us who thrive on anecdotal evidence, and are content to be animal-admiring saps.


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