The Cow Whisperer

by Kathleen O’Loughlin

 This story started as a writing prompt in a group meeting

    The Warlock Eugene, a dairy farmer by trade, really fancied himself as a cow whisperer. He had no need of one of these fancy new milking parlours, his cows headed slowly back into the old-fashioned milking parlour each evening with smiles on their bovine faces when they heard Eugene’s melodious voice fill the air with “Come ye back my lovely ladies, it’s milking time in the valley.” Only one thing upset his image of himself as a truly wonderful cow whisperer, it was when his girls gave birth to bull calves, because of course, no dairy farmer could support these animals, and the poor things were usually exported to Europe because veal was such a desired delicacy especially in French restaurants.    

     When calving season came around that year, Eugene was very busy taking care of his cows, ensuring they had the best possible birthing experience. Alas, one of his favourites, Mila, gave birth to a bull calf and Eugene, with his exquisite sensitivity, couldn’t but feel her anguish, knowing her baby was due for slaughter. As he petted her, noting the tears in her eyes, he said “There, there, Mila, I’ll see what can be done.” But his heart was heavy as he went inside to clean up and make himself a well-deserved cup of tea.

       He turned on the telly. In a bid to escape the relentless bad news about Climate change, the wars in Gaza and Ukraine not to mention Sudan and Yemen, he switched channels to YouTube and after surfing for a while came across  a podcast on gender transitioning. Eugene found this fascinating, it featured a swimmer who had transitioned and now was beating women’s world records. “Good Lord,” he thought, “this could be the answer, what is true for humans is probably also true for cattle. I wonder if Teagasc is researching this?” He resolved to ring them in the morning with the hypothesis and if they weren’t already doing the research he would volunteer his herd for a research project, and with that happy thought he turned off the telly and went to bed, so full of the exciting possibilities he imagined lay ahead that it was some time before he could sleep.

       Next morning, he was out of bed like a shot when the alarm went off and was humming with joy as he sipped his morning coffee. Next, he was skipping over to the haggard with such a spring in his step when he heard the sound of Mila crooning to her little bull calf. He couldn’t wait to share with her his brilliant idea and reassure her that he had thought of a way to save the little calf. He stepped into her pen, careful not to get between herself and the calf.

     “Mila, I need you to teach that little calf to act like a girl calf, you know, the walk with the slow swing of the hips from side to side, the gentle flutter of  eyelashes as bull calves approach, the skittish kind of dance away if they get too close, that kind of thing.”

     “Good heavens, Eugene, what nonsense is this? How on earth is that going to help him, he’ll be ostracised by all the other little bull calves and his short life will be totally miserable.”

     “But Mila, suppose he/she is not a true bull calf, suppose he has been born in the wrong body and he/she is really a little cow, with treatment HE could become SHE and be the best milk producer in the herd. I’m contacting Teagasc to check on this today and see at what stage we will start treatment.”

     Mila sighed and just walked away and to give her little calf another lick.

   “You go ahead Eugene, if you think that will work, but I’m not convinced it’s a good or even useful idea.”

Eugene didn’t allow himself to be discouraged by Mila’s lack of enthusiasm and after he milked the herd and checked on and fed the ones who had recently birthed, he went back into his kitchen for a hearty breakfast and picked up the phone to his Teagasc advisor.

    “Tell me Paddy, are you lads doing research on transitioning cattle?”

    “What the heck are you talking about?”

    “You know, transitioning humans is working brilliantly. There are now trans women who are world beaters in all fields of sports, surely you are researching the implications for other mammals. Why, this might be true for cattle as well, just think, increased milk yields with fewer cows. The Greens would be delighted to fund the research, I’m sure. Good for climate, good for the planet.”

     “Who is this? What did you say your name was again?”

     “It’s the warlock Eugene, the dairy farmer, don’t you remember? We met at the last dairy farmers’ protest outside the Dept. Of Agriculture, I was just sure you would want to be involved in this Great Experiment of transitioning bull calves, it’s…”

The phone went dead. Eugene could hardly believe someone from Teagasc would hang up on him when he had such exciting information, it had to be a faulty line. He rang back. The line was engaged. Eugene thought he would try the Ag. Science Dept in UCD, he didn’t have any contacts there, but he was sure there had to be some ambitious PhD students anxious to make a name for themselves. He got through to what he thought was the switchboard:

    “Hello, my name is Warlock Eugene and I’m looking for an ambitious young Ag. Science student to conduct a research project on my dairy farm which I’m prepared to fund.”

     “ Just a moment Mr. Eugene, I’m sure our financial controller would be most interested in talking to you. How much did you say you were prepared to fund your research project to the tune of again?” Eugene had got through to the staff common room and the phone was on speaker.

      “Well, I didn’t say actually, but I suppose I’d be prepared to put up a couple of grand and as many bull calves as you need for the experiment.”

     The look of intense disappointment on three faces in the common room was a sight to behold. They knew bull calves were essentially worthless and a research project with just a couple of grand behind it wasn’t going to go very far. All three young scientists quietly exited the room leaving the phone unattended.

      “Hello, hello, anybody there? Hello? Goodness another faulty line, maybe”

      But Eugene wasn’t a lad to be easily put off and if mainstream scientists weren’t interested in testing his theory, he would just have to set about testing it himself. He knew he would have to give it some thought to find the medication he was looking for if the social transitioning alone wasn’t sufficient. While he was mulling this over, who walked into the haggard but his old friend Warlock John, who was walking in the neighbourhood and thought he’d drop in for a chat and a cup of tea, knowing that all Irish farms constantly had a kettle on the hob.

     “Welcome John, what’s  up in your world, I hear you’ve got yourself a new job, a consultancy with the local witches coven.” And with that it was like a light went on in Eugene’s head. Of course, witches, probably most of them on HRT, there’s where he would probably source his medication, and with that he persuaded John to sit and listen to his theory about trans cows. It would be fair to say that John listened to him with a fair degree of skepticism, but he was a practical warlock and if this job with the witches’ coven didn’t work out, he would be back trying to get accepted in the warlocks’ group, so winning friends and influencing warlocks was his game.

      “Well, I can certainly introduce you to Miss Agatha, the coven chair, and you can make your case to her, but I’m not promising anything, mind.”

      “Fair enough, John, make the introduction and I’ll take it from there.”

Now, as it happened, Miss Agatha, a skilled herbalist, had been trying to persuade her fellow witches to abandon commercial HRT in favour of her own concoction of evening primrose oil, black cohosh, ginseng and St. John’s Wort, but the younger members were completely sold on the commercial ones, Premarin being their favourite, so when Warlock John invited her around to meet Eugene, she listened carefully to  his theory and to  his  request for HRT and she saw a golden opportunity for her to persuade her colleagues to give up their Premarin. Of course, she thought the experiment was the most hair-brained thing she had ever heard of in her life.

      Agatha opened the next coven meeting with:

“Ladies, I’d like to introduce Warlock Eugene, a local dairy farmer, who has a request of the group. He needs our help to conduct a most interesting experiment on his cattle. I just knew that as the coven with the most progressive membership in the county, you would all be anxious to facilitate him. I’ll let you explain your ideas, Eugene,” and with that she conceded the floor to Eugene. He spoke eloquently for twenty minutes and when he left the room, he had twelve months supply of Premarin in his pockets. He whistled lightheartedly as he mounted his broom for home. Before she concluded the meeting, Agatha offered her own concoction for menopausal symptoms to anyone in the group who was interested in trialing it. Several took her up on the offer.

The months rolled by, and various members of the coven grew progressively less enthusiastic about Agatha’s menopausal concoction despite her best efforts to talk it up until eventually Earnestina decided that enough was enough. She persuaded her colleagues to stop donating their Premarin to Eugene and he wasn’t long coming round to Agatha’s begging her to give him another opportunity to address a coven meeting. She scheduled him for the following Tuesday.

     “Ladies, please,  just a few more months supply of Premarin should do the trick, I do believe the treatment is working. Why just this morning the little he/she sidled up to me, fluttered his/her eyelashes and gave me a ‘come hither’ look over his/her shoulder as he/she sashayed into the shed, I’m sure this is working.”

    “I’m sorry, Eugene, but we all are in dire need of our own medication. With all due respects to Agatha’s concoction, but I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep in months.”

   “Maybe if we saw the evidence with our own eyes we could be persuaded” said Agatha, “how about if we visited your farm, say tomorrow?”

    The following morning was fine but chilly when the ladies arrived at the haggard for a cattle inspection.

   “This way, ladies, we can walk through this paddock, the treated calf is to the left and untreated one to the right.”

And sure enough the animal on the left looked at them doe eyed, batting his/her eyelashes and gently swaying his/her hips to the rhythm of “I only have eyes for you” the tune that was playing on Eugene’s radio at that exact moment, while the one on the right looked at them with a gleam of menace in his eye as he approached the fence. But alas neither animal had udders, there would be no milk from either of them.

     The witches looked at each other with raised eyebrows. Which of them was going to tell Eugene the truth? But it had to be done, none of them were prepared to donate anymore Premarin for this experiment.

     Agatha cleared her throat, and spoke as kindly as she was able, “Eugene, I can see you have raised a couple of fine specimens of bull calves, and I think you’ll agree there is no evidence of  transformation in either of them.”

     “But, Agatha, clearly the one on the left, is transitioning, can’t you see that?”

     “Eugene, the one on the left is gay, that’s all.”

     “What, will I have to send him to the French veal market after all?”

     “Of course not, Eugene, surely if every household can support one lady, then every dairy farmer can support one confused bull who thinks he’s a cow.”