Cows kill teacher who was walking his dogs

720 kilos: The average cow is heavier than a horse, a grizzly bear or a grand piano. © EPA

Should a week on a farm be part of everyone’s education? We take cows for granted. The world is full of them. Yet these usually docile creatures kill more people than bears or sharks do.

The pupils of Richmond School in Yorkshire were in shock yesterday. They had just learned that their deputy head teacher, Dave Clark, had been killed by a herd of cows. The school’s head, Jenna Potter, described him as “a brilliant school leader and simply a lovely man who enriched the life of everyone he came into contact with, just by being himself and doing what he did every day.”

The exact circumstances of his death are unclear, but the teacher is reported to have been walking his dogs at the time. And cows, particularly if they have calves with them, regard dogs as a threat. In another incident last year, a woman in the Peak District was attacked by a herd of cows that trampled her and killed her dog.

One reason these stories make the headlines is that people tend to see cows as harmless, docile creatures. But a report in 2015 named cows as the most dangerous large animals in Britain, responsible for 74 deaths in the last 15 years. In the US, they kill around 20 people each year – more than bears, sharks and alligators.

These statistics are a reminder that many tend to take cows for granted. If we see a herd in a field, we might not give them a second glance. They are one of the most useful animals to humanity, providing us with meat, milk and butter, yet some do not even realise where this food comes from.

In her book, The Secret Life of Cows, organic farmer Rosamond Young argues that cows are very similar to humans. They have distinct personalities, dote on their young, have good and bad moods, talk to each other, are devoted parents and form close friendships.

They also have a sense of fun, running races and playing hide-and-seek. One of her cows used to tease a particular farmhand by snatching his woolly hat from his head whenever she had the chance.

And they are intelligent. Young tells of a distraught mother who woke her by mooing frantically and then led her to where her calf was lying ill. Another cow learnt to open a gate in order to reach a trailer full of hay.

For vegans, these factors argue against eating meat or dairy products. Farmers retort that we cannot be sentimental about animals if we are to survive. But what experts agree is that, to lead a healthy life, we need to be fully aware of what we are eating and where it comes from.

Environmentalists remind us, too, that we need to reconnect with the natural world in order to protect the planet’s future. And while we may not have the chance to meet creatures in the wild, we can find a valuable point of contact among farm animals.

Michael Morpurgo, who started the charity Farms for City Children with his wife Clare, tells of a withdrawn boy visiting the country for the first time. He was so shy that none of his teachers or classmates had ever known him to speak. But one evening, while everyone else was at supper, Morpurgo heard a noise in the farmyard – and found the boy talking to a horse.

Should a week on a farm be part of everyone’s education?

A moot point

Some say, yes. Where our food comes from, and how the animals that produce it are treated, are things all of us need to be informed about. The only sustainable form of farming is organic, but it will never be able to compete with cheap, industrial food production unless consumers understand what it involves, and put pressure on supermarkets to support it.

Others argue that we can learn all we need to about animals, and food production, online. Unless you come from a farming family, the chances that you will follow a career in agriculture are extremely small. You would be far better off spending a week doing work experience in industry, or bringing yourself up to date with the latest in computer technology and coding.

You Decide

  1. Global warming is caused in part by the methane produced by cows. Should eating meat and dairy products be restricted or even banned for the sake of the planet?
  2. In 1948 the United Nations drew up a Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Should there be a similar declaration of animal rights?

Activities

  1. Imagine how utterly strange it would be to see life through the eyes of a cow. Write a letter from a cow, addressed to you, entitled “My perfect day”.
  2. Write a story about a farmer who breeds a cow so intelligent that it is able to help with the running of the farm.

Some People Say...

“We have neglected the truth that a good farmer is a craftsman of the highest order, a kind of artist.”

Wendell Berry (1934-), American writer and farmer

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
It is generally agreed that the biggest incidence of people being sent to work on farms was during China’s Cultural Revolution. Launched in 1966 to purge China of the remnants of capitalism, the revolution lasted 10 years. It included the Down To The Countryside movement, which forced students to leave the city and experience agricultural life. For many of them, swapping a relatively comfortable urban existence for a primitive rural one was a traumatic ordeal.
What do we not know?
One main area of debate is around whether cows should be kept entirely indoors. Traditionally they have been sheltered in barns and fed on hay during the winter, before being let out in spring to graze the fields. But many farmers now take an industrial approach, keeping large numbers in sheds all the year round. They claim this makes life more comfortable for the cows by protecting them from extreme weather. But critics say this is an unnatural environment in which disease can easily spread.

Word Watch

Yorkshire
England’s largest county, famous for its independently minded people and its cricket team.
Peak District
A hilly area of England, situated mainly in Derbyshire. It is the site of Britain’s first national park, created in 1951.
Docile
Submissive or willing to learn. It derives from a Latin word meaning to teach.
Dote on
To be extremely or excessively fond of someone or something. It comes from an old Dutch verb meaning to be silly.
Vegans
People who avoid using products that come from animals – from meat and eggs to leather. The term “vegan” is a contraction of “vegetarian” whose followers see it as the “beginning and end” of vegetarianism.
Michael Morpurgo
A prolific author of books for children, he is best known for his novel War Horse, which was made into both a play and a film.
Farms for City Children
The charity has three farms, in Devon, Gloucestershire and Pembrokeshire, where children from primary schools spend a week. Over 100,000 of them have visited the farms.

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