Since I last wrote we have calved 19 heifers and had a litter of German Shepherd pups. There are babies everywhere and still not much sign of spring! At first I worried about the young calves in the snow; some of them were only a day old when the “Beast from the East” hit, (I am not sure I approve of that nick-name, It somehow suggests that our cold weather is all the fault of Vladimir Putin which I doubt, unless he has got a lot more influence than I give him credit for.) Anyway, I thank God that we have pretty good weather forecasters and I had a few hour’s warning in which to build them a makeshift shelter. As it turned out though, they loved the snow. They charged about in it, had head-butt fights, plunged into drifts and had a wonderful time while the snow settled two inches deep on their backs, which shows how well their coats insulate their skin. (The snow on my head melted straight away and a bovine’s body temperature is much hotter than mine.)
Our nursing German Sherherd mother wasn’t so keen though, she tiptoed across the lawn with her back arched, trying to keep her newly-developed udder from frostbite. I wonder how wolves manage in places like Siberia and Finland? My Fuzzbuzz doesn’t have to go out in the snow for hours, as they do, with her nipples brushing across the frozen tundra, hunting for her supply of tripe and ox-tongue. I tell her, “Life could be a lot more difficult!”
Instinct is a mysterious thing. You would think that a dog so obviously descended from wolves would know, in adulthood, how to cope with a couple of days of snow.
The young calves stagger to their feet, on the coldest night and with no regard to the freezing puddle in which their mothers have deposited them. (Cows very sensibly try to give birth while facing uphill. Gravity assists the process. This does mean though, that sometimes the unobservant ones are lying with their body and forequarters on a nice dry hillock but their hind end in a pool of freezing mud. Amazingly, most calves seem oblivious to this.)
Every year. every birth is a new moment of wonder to me. The calves lurch to their feet and stumble towards their mother’s udder. Some are covered in mud, some have their mother’s mucous freezing on their coats, a few unlucky ones may have been trodden on by their own mothers in their first transports of delight and enthusiasm, but every single calf heads unerringly towards his mothers teats. How on Earth do they know? Did I do that at their age?
Instinct is a quality of all species that reproduce sexually, and possibly all others too, but has to be specific to that species. Therefore it is hard to envisage instinct as a product of blind evolution, there must be a (species-specific) design behind it.
How could “Instinct” evolve at all?
I know that I am prone to bark on about the subjectivity of things like colour, and I do beg your tolerance. Colour does not exist “out there” in the universe, it is just represented by wavelengths which are interpreted by our optic nerves and brains to offer our minds the notion of colour. (I am being careful to distinguish the terms “mind” and “brain.”)
So colour, for example, only exists in our imaginations. My postboxes are “RED” because we have agreed to spell the colour of postboxes “R-E-D” but for all I know, my postboxes might be the colour of your grass. Since we have agreed to spell the colour of grass “G-R-E-E-N” we cannot know whether you and I are experiencing the same thing when we view a postbox or a lawn: That’s the point, colour is not an object, it is an experience.
I don’t think that colour features anywhere in instinctive behaviour. A black Angus calf will drink from a brown Hereford cow. She might not like it, but no self-respecting Angus calf is going to take Moo for an answer.
So what I am suggesting is that certain feats of knowledge, (such as where Mother’s teats are,) are in fact objective. That is to say, that I think that when a fact is established as true, that truth has an existence of its own in the real world, and the understanding of it is a given thing that may be inherited from the real world and does not have to be learned. In other words, when the first calf managed to drink milk from its mothers’ teats, the process became inheritable to, and therefore easier for, all its successors.
Come to Taunton Farmers’ Market on Thursday and tell me what you think.
Now, about this weather: I was hoping to write this week that spring is on the way, but everyone tells me that we should expect at least one more Toe-Freezing Thursday so I am going to give you one of my best recipes for cold winter days. This is a recipe for the ultimate heart-warming, life-saving, warmth-giving mashed potato and it goes very well with venison or mutton. Robert-The-Venison will be at the market the week after next and Debbie-the-Duck will have some splendid mutton joints. This is the ultimate accompaniment to mutton or venison when the temperature drops to the point where instinct takes over.
- Take a buttered oven-proof dish and fill it an inch deep with boiled celeriac.
- Dot with butter and dust with ground nutmeg.
- Cover with mashed potato (I have asked Helen-The-Veg and she says Desiree Is Ideal,) level off with the back of a spoon and top with slices of mature cheddar (Ask Mark the Cheese for his recommendation.)
- Grill ’til it bubbles and dress with some of Helen’s Land Cress.
Lovely and Good For You!
With any luck, next week we shall be thinking about cool spring salad recipes and looking forward to the summer. See you next Thursday in Taunton High Street. God bless your work and mine.