I like cows. They seem to like me as well. More often than not, a cow’s first reaction on seeing me is to lumber away fearfully. However, before getting too far, curiosity takes over and she stops to look over her shoulder, fluttering those Marilyn eyelashes with a ‘come hither’ look. Ignore her and she won’t be able to resist coming a step back for a closer look. I remember patting the neck of an especially inquisitive friesian. This caused her to shake her head and deposit a foot long rope of snot across my face in what I assume was a display of bovine comradeship. A herd of bullocks has, on a couple of occasions, been so intrigued by my presence that they’ve surrounded me while providing an escort to the edge of their field.
And this reminds me of the cowslip Primula veris – not a sexy something from Daisy’s wardrobe, but a plant which frequents the same meadows. According to Wikipedia, it got its name from the old English cowshit , however, The AA Book Of The British Countryside, which is obviously aimed at a more refined market, says it came from cowslop, in each case the name is a reference to its habitat. ‘Cowslop’ (and certainly cowshit) doesn’t have a poetic ring and it was probably for this reason that it metamorphosed to the ‘slip’ version we recognise today. Seeds should be subjected to a period of cold which breaks down the mechanism (dormancy factor) preventing germination. In effect this fools the plant that winter has been and gone, so it is time to grow. It’s easily achieved by sowing in pots in autumn and leaving outside overwinter so that frost can do its job.
I wouldn’t see the cowslip as a plant for a main border but it is ideal for a grassy hedge base where it will tend to spread if cut back in late summer. It is often included in wildflower seed mixes and, from becoming relatively rare, has made a bit of a comeback along roadside verges where transport authorities have an eye for the environment.
Coming full circle back to cows: their flatulence is causing a bit of a problem in the environment. Apparently one cow can exude as much as 100kg of methane per year in the form of farts and this is far more damaging to the atmosphere than the carbon dioxide generated by cars. In addition to this, providing enough grazing land to support the massively growing demand for meat is leading to deforestation on a frightening scale. Logically I suppose, we should be limiting its consumption and eating more vegetables.
I have a theory. You know the nursery rhyme about the dish and the spoon followed by the cow jumping over the moon? Well, if that particular bovine had, for some constipatory reason, retained its output of methane for a year, then suddenly let it go, this could be the reason the cow got there before Buzz Aldrin.