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Cattle can make a pretty good ‘weatherman’

Penchecker's Diary: Don’t be afraid to believe some folklore, intangibles or observations

In this day and age we hear so much about fake news and conspiracy theories, from politics to business and even religion. They have become a part of our everyday life. And depending on what type of person we are, we often logically dismiss almost everything we hear as preposterous. I sometimes wonder if we aren’t doing ourselves a disservice. How bland is a life lacking colour? Why push the intrigue and spice out leaving us with no mysteries to contemplate — just a steady trudging ahead without ever adjusting the blinders we wear?

Growing up decades ago on the farm, I paid no attention to the behaviour of wildlife and cattle in particular. I would handle our small herd in a bullheaded way every day the same as the last, stubbornly pushing ahead at times causing mayhem and damage, risking injury and health because I didn’t notice the signs right in front of me.

Anyone who has worked cattle before knows that it is a fact that their behaviour changes from one day to the next. This is undeniable. But why? Is it just coincidence or is it one of those livestock mysteries and spicy theories that they can actually predict the weather to some degree?

As a pen rider, I would often see this manifested in my day-to-day tasks. Some mornings when I’d call old Sonny he’d be nowhere to be found. I’d end up searching the pasture, filling the air with colourful phrases and when I’d find him, he’d resist being caught, gambling on the admonishment that I’d deliver after I’d finally corral him. Then when I would put a boot in the stirrup, I’d find my other toe pointed skyward, as he’d be off and walking apparently in a hurry to get the work over and done with. Did he just want a day off or did he actually have some inside knowledge? If I recall correctly, often on those mornings, we would get halfway through the pens when the wind would whip up and the two of us would get soaked to the bone.

Over time, even I learned to sense weather changes in a limited way. Sometimes things just didn’t feel right. Pens of normally docile cattle would suddenly be flighty. If I ignored or disregarded these facts, I might end up scurrying out of the way of a stampede.

An oldtimer once told me that cattle will tend to stand when the weather is hot to disperse extra heat from a larger area of their body. When it cools off, sometimes with rain on the horizon, they will lie down to conserve body heat. Others have said that animals are attuned to the vibrations of the Earth, and when major weather changes are nearing, they move around so as not to feel the ground disturbances. Birds tend to fly high in good weather and low to the ground to avoid disruptive air pressures when storms approach.

Stephen Hawking, an undeniably brilliant man, once said science is based on observation and reason. Another favourite quote from an unknown author is that folklore is also based on centuries of observation. In other words, if enough people observe the changing actions of cattle when it comes to the weather, maybe we can eventually call it science. Why dismiss it? Why throw out the spice in our lives just because we consider ourselves evolved, realistic and logical?

Throughout my career interacting with livestock, I learned to pay more attention to the actions and behaviour of old Sonny and the cattle I would check daily, altering the basic work processes of pulling and sorting cattle depending on the overall attitudes of each pen. I accepted I couldn’t push an edgy group of cattle the same way every day. Edginess breeds more of the same, and you can be faced quickly with damage and possible injury to the livestock or yourself if you aren’t careful.

Call it folklore, conspiracy theories, fake news or even science — it’s something that the most cynical and logical among us might want to hold on to. Why not? It makes for a more colourful world. And at the end of the day, who can absolutely disprove it?

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