Ever since the snow melted, we’ve been keeping an eye on the grass. The cows have been keeping their eyes on it, too—one day at lunch, I looked out our kitchen window to see that Plum, a black cow with tall, curved horns and a mischievous disposition, had escaped the yard and was ferociously chewing on the stubby, new growth in a neighboring field. They say this is the most difficult time of year to keep the cows enclosed, because they can smell the grass but it’s not long enough for them to eat yet. Yesterday, though, we reckoned the grass was ready, and at 10:30 in the morning, we opened the gate and let them go to pasture for the first time. At that moment, I was in the hayloft finishing up with chores, unaware of the exciting event that was taking place until I heard loud, almost frantic mooing coming from many cows at once. I ran downstairs and into the cow yard to see most of the herd bucking, leaping, galloping down the lane towards the pasture. The calves, born over the winter, had never been to pasture and didn’t quite know what all the commotion was about, but got caught up in the excitement anyway, frolicking after the rest of the herd. To get to the pasture, there was a stream to ford, and the babies were a little dubious, but everyone eventually made it across safely.

Isis, in the foreground, is the oldest of the calves still kept with the milking herd, but is certainly not the bravest. While the others waded across with trepidation, Isis tried to run back to the barn.

Upon arrival, the girls bounded around, stretching their legs (they had been relatively confined all winter), but with four stomachs to fill, they quickly got down to the business of eating.

Cows are like living lawn mowers! Converting sunlight to milk through the magic that is the ruminant's digestive system.

They were so enthusiastic in their munching that I was somewhat concerned that we’d have a hard time convincing them to go back inside again, but, creatures of habit that they are, when we came back at 2 o’clock to retrieve them for milking, they were all lined up at the gate. In the coming weeks, as the grass accelerates its growth rate, the cows will spend more and more of the day on pasture until, sometime in May, they will start sleeping outside and come into the barn only to be milked. We farmers will then start work even earlier, going out at 4:30am to fetch them from the fields. Some of our pastures are across the road from the barn, and I’m told that it’s quite a sight when we cross the street with 50-some head of cattle, blocking traffic for 10 minutes. I thoroughly enjoy this image—of our cows with their slow, stubborn, purposeful ways—forcing people, in a rush to get to work or school or some other errand they deem important, to simply pause.

Grazing, April 21, 2011.

Quote of the day: “Fully imagined and precisely rendered storytelling about creatures and communities, human and otherwise, in the so-called ‘natural’ world can lead us to the once-upon-a-time quite commonplace but now rarer pleasure of inhabiting a sense that we are irrevocably wedded into electric processes of what is actual, that we are participants in the system of energies in which we feel whole. We intuit that we are part of holiness. We must reinforce that intuition.”-William Kittredge, Taking Care: Thoughts on Storytelling and Belief


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