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How cows live up to their name

Chickens are brave, never 'chicken'; cows, on the other hand, can certainly be 'cowed.'

"I guess that's what the term 'cowed' means," my husband commented as we hustled our little dog away from the field and back to the main road.

It wasn't that the dachshund had been "cowed" by the large dog or donkeys there, but that he'd just "cowed" a cow. I was surprised because I'd assumed that a "cowed" cow was as impossible as a "chicken" chicken.

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From my early bird-rearing experiences, I'd learned that, contrary to the tale of "Chicken Little," chickens are definitely not easily frightened creatures, and that the term "chicken" should more appropriately connote courage and pluck rather than weakness and fear. I'd seen tiny frogs hop frantically and yard-long snakes slither away at full speed to escape a flock of hens, and watched ducks duck out of the way as chickens clambered over them into their shallow plastic watering tubs.

But it was our tabby cat, Lucy, who'd been my primary teacher on the unchicken nature of chickens. She'd thought it would be great fun to stalk the recently hatched Rhode Island Red chicks parading around the garden behind their mother in search of earthworms. But after tolerating the kitten's stalking for several paces (with a few warning clucks and glares), the hen abruptly turned and pecked Lucy sharply on the nose.

This otherwise feisty cat retreated rapidly and carefully avoided close encounters with chickens from then on, often traveling out of her way to circumvent the birds' turf.

Lucy had discovered that chickens weren't "chicken," and that's why it startled me to see a cow actually "cowed."

We'd been taking a leisurely late morning walk down the mountain road from my sister-in-law's ranch when our dachshund, Rummy, had scented animals in a neighboring field.

As he'd meandered his way up to the closest fence to get a better view, a medium-size cow edged up on her side until they'd stood nose to nose through the wire. But then Rummy let out a couple of his vigorous and very deep barks, and the cow scurried backward several feet, much to Rummy's apparent delight.

Like Lucy the cat before him, he'd just learned (and taught us) an interesting lesson in animal behavior (and the English language): There may be no such thing as a "chicken" chicken, but apparently cows can be "cowed."