Science now says that cows have an internal GPS that points them north or south.
Hooray for science. Grandpa Cole told me that 40 years ago.
“That’s north,” he said. “You can tell because the cows are facing that way.”
I thought they were facing that way because that’s where the barn — and their nightly rations of grain — stood, but I let it pass.
Grandpa Cole also once told me, “Here, take this weed and touch that wire fence.”
“Yep, I remembered to turn on the juice,” he said.
“I thought that’s what the green light on that box in the barn was for,” I complained, rubbing the sting from my arm.
“Oh, yeah,” he said. “There is that.”
It turns out that the north-south thing wasn’t one of his little jokes.
When he turned the cows out to pasture after the morning milking, they headed south, grazing along the way. By the time evening milking approached, they were aimed north to the barn.
Their internal clocks were less reliable. Gramps often had to call them in: “Come-boss, come-boss, come-boss-ee!” Soon, we’d hear the clanking of the bell on the lead cow, often without much urgency.
Invite a herd of cows to your party and they’d find the place — if it was north or south. But you better serve Coca-Cola because the milk may saunter in an hour late if there’s a particularly interesting thistle to inspect along the way.
According to a team of researchers from Germany and Czechoslovakia, about two-thirds of cattle grazing or resting will align themselves in a north-south direction. They figured this out by studying satellite photos of thousands of cows from around the world.
This begs the obvious question: If you’re going to pull the Peeping Tom routine, why cows? That’s a little too much toleration of lactose.
The other question is where’s my internal sense of direction? When I end up on winding backroads, after the third twist, my sense of direction is turned.
But not only do cows point like a compass, they also unerringly lope right to their own stalls. Let 50 or 80 cows stream into a barn and each heads to her own stall, night after night. I couldn’t have done that at school if someone swiped the number plates from our lockers.
So maybe the answer for my directionally challenged self is the same as it is for how I should finally enter this Go Green movement: Let’s put our cars out to pasture and ride cows. We won’t get where we’re going in any hurry. But consider how cool the list of features would sound at the used cow lot:
* Runs on bio fuels;
* Factory installed GPS;
* Two-tone, genuine cowhide leather upholstery;
* Dual horns;
* Automatic fly swatter;
* Four on the floor;
* Mulching attachment is standard;
* High production of natural gas;
* Built-in, self-replenishing drink storage compartment;
* A sound system featuring a clip-clop beat, gentle lowing and way more cowbell than motorize vehicles offer;
* Each model comes with a T-bone steak. And a rump roast.
The biggest drawback that I can see is that if ol’ Bessie dozes in the parking lot while you run into the store, vandals might tip her over.
The only question there is will she fall to the north or to the south?
I’m sure Peeping Tom scientists and their satellites already are working on that crucial question.