The right to moo

THERE'S an oldie about the farmer leading his cow along the river bank, and when the cow let go a resounding blat, the keeper opened the drawbridge. This similarity to the toot of a riverboat may not be hilarious to today's millions who never heard a country cow in her best resonant form, but those of us with memories from barnyard days will nod. And we few will appreciate the soundness of a recent court decision in Lower Saxony that gives the blat of a cow full judicial approval. The village of Krainhagen is some kind of a watering place, without reference to bovine thirst, and accordingly has a hoity-toity complexion that recognizes and practices finer things, which explains as well as anything can how it happened that a cow's view halloa got into litigation.

Some cows, I know from boyhood exposure, do better with a blat than others. We had one heifer of a yellow persuasion that couldn't blat worth a cent, and we called her Whispering Sue. It was kind of comical to see her try to blat, because I think she knew she was inept and lacked power. So she would try to overcome her deficiency and would burst every effort to outdo Rowdy-Dowdy Bombast, her next-stall companion, who had more blat than the Halifax Express when it hit Grover's Crossing. Rowdy-Dowdy never had to try - she just lifted her snout and let go, and she'd rattle windows over on Pleasant Hill.

Whispering Sue lacked such ease of delivery and natural competence and would go through something of a getting-ready when she felt like a blat. She'd lower her head, bring her four feet together, inhale so she blew herself up like a balloon, and then she'd raise her muzzle aloft and deflate. All she ever got was a meager tootle, a desultory flutter that faded away before it got to the end of the tie-up. Rowdy-Dowdy would sometimes answer this small effort by a rousing dandy that would send the pigeons into the air from their perch on the silo.

Cows, some of us will recall, are creatures of habit, and if closely attended and given due comfort will not do too much blatting. But if the routine is disturbed by as much as three and one half seconds from watering time to watering, a cow will blat about 17 times in that interval, increasing the noise of successive blats in geometrical progression. Since this alerts everybody in miles around and shows the herdsman is lax, a good little boy hurrying home from school to water the family bossy will not dally. Silence means cattle are content.

In the village of Krainhagen, as in most German farming towns, the people live in the village and do their farming outside the limits. Willi Lampech customarily did so, but in the instance in contention one of his cows was approaching her accouchement and he left her, daytimes, in his garden instead of walking her a mile up the road to pasture. This was merely a gesture toward her condition, a kindly thought, and probably anywhere else except in a hoity-toity watering place the folks would understand and even approve.

But Diedie, the cow, missed her routine, and because she didn't get walked to pasture each morning, to be walked home again in the evening, she felt she was being abused and she took to bawling to advertise her lonely situation. This aroused some public displeasure until a lawyer was sought and easily found, and Diedie was in court. Germany has a surfeit of lawyers and a great disposition to sue, as a consequence of which the judiciary is approachable about almost anything. Diedie was not summonsed to testify in person, but as plaintiff, lawyers, and defendant gathered, she offered her comments from the Lampech garden.

Willi cited his reason for leaving Diedie in the village while other cows were in absentia, and his lawyer argued the cow's (in general, not Diedie's in particular) predilection for publicity, and His Honor took judicial notice with due solemnity. Plaintiff testified the offending beast was noisy beyond human endurance, that her constant whoop and hooraw lowered the value of his property, and so forth and so on, and urged that she be banned to the suburbs for environmental, and other, reasons. Defendant pleaded said Diedie's inherent rights and privileges, and spoke also of his own. Ducks quack, horses neigh, sheep bleat, pigs grunt, and cows have every right to blat. The judge nodded.

It is good when a judge does something right. This one ruled for Diedie. He said animal sounds may not be music to all ears, but they are facts of life and belong in a world such as we enjoy. So Diedie was permitted to blat in hoity-toity Krainhagen until with her calf she was returned to pasture.

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