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The Cowmunicator

Karen Greenfield

A representative of the dairy industry had been visiting Waikatos high schools. Senior Georgia Quinn was not interested in a stable profession, offering good pay, a fine quality of life, and clear career paths. But she adored the matted eyelashes and pursed mouths of cows. And when an especially expressive bovine appeared onscreen in the assembly hall, her fate was sealed. Eight months later, Georgia sat across from herd manager Jack Finn. Twenty-four, Jack lived in single mans quarters on the White Cloud Dairy Farm. He had trained Georgia in milking, calving, pasture management, and other farm duties. Ive nominated you for New Zealand Dairy Trainee of the Year, he announced. The winner receives $3,000 in cash, he read from a paper on his desk. Thank you, Mr. Finn. Georgia sometimes found Jack officious. You will be required to attend a short interviewby a panel ofjudges in February, he stumbled. Georgias large hazel eyes and small, straight lips distracted him. But dont be nervous. Youre a natural. Georgia walked to the shed for the first milking of the day. The cows stood on concrete platforms lining the room. Hello, sweet girl, Georgia sang, patting a black-andwhite cow. As she stooped to wash the udder, a voice barked Move! Georgia spun around just as the cow kicked where her head had been. Seeing no one behind her, Georgia thought, Thats odd. Not really, the voice replied. Huh? Georgia looked around again but saw no one nearby. Bovines tend to kick toward the side where they have pain. Thats true, Georgia conceded. Was an inner voice guiding her? No, over here! The cow flicked her tail.

Georgias big eyes got bigger. Check my back left teat, the cow prompted. It showed signs of mastitis, an infection. Georgia notified the farms veterinarian, Dr. Massey, who administered antibiotics. Georgia now found herself privy to the thoughts of cows, often amusingly innocuous: Its muddy. The gate is open. Shoo, fly! But she focused her ability on uncovering health issues, proving so successful that Dr. Massey began taking her on rounds. Over time, Georgia came to realize that certain practices, overlooked in her eagerness to learn, troubled her. The modern dairy farm endeavors to maximize profit and minimize overhead, Jack stated, staring at a file cabinet. Did they teach you that in cow college? Georgia was only half-joking. We provide nutritious food, comfortable conditions, and medical care, he continued. Thats a nice start, but have you heard the bellowing of a cow when her calf is taken away within days or even hours of birth? Its heartbreaking. Jack looked at her. Thats how the system works. Theres no choice. Theres always a choice. We operate strictly by the book, I assure you. But the book doesnt account for the physical stress on an overworked mother producing 30 to 50 liters of milk a day while nurturing another growing calf inside her. Or the lame cow with sole ulcers forced to continue milking. Or the calfs agony as her horns are sheared off. Cows have the same pain thresholds we do. And how do you know that? They tell me. You mean you project your feelings onto them. I hear them.

Mooing? Speaking in my head. What, words and phrases? Also clauses. That night, Georgia dreamt of a field dense with yellow lupines. Cavorting among the flowers were calves of every color. A mahogany bull with a white face and imposing horns stepped forward and said, Thank you, Jack Finn. The next morning, by the shed, an emotional Jack explained the message: Bobby was born to our family cow. We already had a bull and wanted to sell the milk intended for the calf. As Father aimed the shotgun, I clung to his leg. We agreed I would work on a neighboring farm to offset the costs. I was seven. Until Bobby died two years ago, I sent money home. For the first time, Georgia noticed that Jacks hair matched the copper rims of his glasses. A few hours later, he called her into his office. The bad news is I withdrew your nomination yesterday, when I thought you were stark raving bonkers. Jack smiled. The good news is you have a special assignment: to conduct a bovine satisfaction survey. Ive set aside a small amount for improvements based on your findings. Oh, I could hug you! Georgia cried. Sometime he would tell her the Bobby Fund came from his paycheck.