Talking To Animals


Have you ever had this happen to you? You stop at a friend’s farm. Knowing he or she is in the barn doing chores, you saunter across the barnyard unannounced. You can hear your friend carrying on quite an animated conversation with someone. You walk through the barn door and there indeed is your friend and he is indeed talking but there is no one else in the barn. He sees you and abruptly falls silent. He gets a look of awful embarrassment on his face. He has been talking to his animals as we all do but don’t like to admit it.

During the days when I was milking a hundred cows, I was often caught carrying on learned discussions with my Holsteins. If the visitor were a friend, especially if he had been caught talking to animals himself, he might put on a big show of mystification, going to great lengths to look around to see whom I had been talking to.

A milker of cows is sort of like the blacksmith of yore. Morning and evening you are always in your office, so to speak, and the whole neighborhood knows it. You are a captive audience to every fervent Republican who wants to pleasure you with his latest joke about stupid Democrats. Or vice versa.  Salesmen know you can’t escape them.  Every righteous crusader for every righteous cause wants to practice his pitch on you. Every hunter has a new escapade to tell you about how he saw the buck deer with the biggest rack in the county but of course did not get a shot at it.

Animals are great to talk to. They can be trusted to keep any secret, will not point out to you embarrassing contradictions of logic in your arguments, and they never argue back. They just nod and keep on eating. They will only interrupt your flow of brilliant reasoning if they run out of food.

Conversing with animals can be quite effective.

“I tell you, they should just throw all those politicians out of Washington and start over.”

“Munch, crunch, munch, crunch.” The sound of a cow chewing hay is as soothing as the sound of a waterfall.

“Well, yes, of course, somebody has to run the government but why can’t they compromise more.”

“Munch, crunch, munch crunch.” The big round cow eyes stare placidly out on the world, unperturbed.

“As long as they don’t kiss up to those rich Republicans too much.”

“Munch, crunch, munch, crunch.” One ear wiggle-waggles.

“Well, yes, there are rich Democrats too.”

“Crunch, munch, crunch, munch.

“Quite a lot of them in fact.”

“Munch, crunch, munch,  crunch.”

“Oh, to heck with it all. I’m goin’ coon-huntin’.”

Animals often do know what you are saying and can talk back if they feel like it. You just have to be properly attuned. We are all convinced that our son’s dog has developed an extensive vocabulary. At Christmas time, his master adorned him with a ridiculous big red Christmas ribbon around his middle. When I complimented him on his attire, he turned right around and nudged the ribbon with his nose. I swear he knew what I was talking about.

Husbandmen and husbandwomen are basically contented souls. They are never really lonely. They always have a psychologist out in the barn ready to listen to their tales of woe and it doesn’t cost them a hundred bucks an hour either.


I’m leaving this comment ,not in response to this particular entry, or to any particular entry by The Contrary Farmer : It actually concerns all of them!

As a long-time fan of my home-state hero,whose curmudgeonliness,contrariness, and just plain smart-assed logic pleases me to no end,I was initially thrilled to find he had this blog.Now, however,I’m disappointed.You see,I promptly back-tracked and read every one of the past entries,and have only one-per-week to look forward to now.But oh,it was fun while it lasted.

    Steven, you are very kind and also very clever. Should you be tempted to read more contrariness, I also have been writing a weekly newspaper column in the Carey (Ohio) Progressor Times newspaer since 1974, one a week, or nearly 2000 or so altogether. Gene Logsdon

I talk to my animals all the time. I used to talk to my mother’s chickens too. They were lousy conversationalists though. I had a beagle who just recently passed who was a great conversationalist. He would “talk” with different sounds and looks, the way he breathed and a few other cues we knew to watch for. But we had to be careful which words we used around him. We tested him, and he knew the meaning of about 20 words and probably ten different phrases. I’m still trying to figure out why my chihuahua hates the phrase, “orange cat”. He’s never had any dealings with one. Well, other than the previous neighbor-cat stalking him because he thought the dog was an overly large rat….

unlike cell phones, animals don’t answer in human voice….

I have one Hen, that whenever I do any work on the Henhouse (changed a door hinge in one case) comes right on over and starts squawking at me loudly. Non Stop. Pecks at my electric screwdriver too. I have asked here over and over what the problem is, but she never answers, just keeps squawking at me until I finish.

We talk to all our animals including the chickens. I especially enjoy talking with the pigs and have leaned a few of their sounds. Pigs are the most intelligent creatures on our farm. I’d rate the Great Pyrenees livestock guard dog second and goats last. I like to visit the cattle daily and they enjoy me talking with them. Any that don’t end up in the freezer or sold. We only breed friendly animals with good personalities.

When I’ve had a bad day at work, I’ve learned to go to the barn instead of the house. If I go to the house first, I make my wife mad due to my sour mood (and that’s bad for everyone). At the barn, the pig will carry on a conversation with me. She doesn’t know how to not interact. The cows are more like therapists, they just nod and look at you an expect you to solve your problems on your own. The chickens…well I usually don’t take my problems to them, they are too busy gossiping. Then of course there are the cats. If I just need company I can build a fire in the stove in the garage and they will hop up in my lap.
The moral is if there is any farmer that doesn’t talk to his animals, he either has a bad marriage, or he doesn’t know what he’s missing!

I have managed to remain somewhat sane during the trials and tribulations that come with a 24 yr career as a sheriff’s deputy. The main reason I truly believe is the time I spend with the cattle and the horses. The don’t get annoyed with my complaining about our legal system or what a jerk my boss is . If I was to talk that way with friends or family they would get sick of it really fast. on a second note is the embarassment when you talk to animals in your sleep! I used to drive a team that could be a handful and I was always having to talk ..or yell at katie or buggs this carried over to me driving in my sleep sometimes very loudly. I don’t drive my current horses in my sleep!

I’m currently working at two different farms that raise animals for meat, and one of them’s a dairy, as well. I talk to the sheep, cows, chickens, pigs and so on quite a bit, though on the rare occasion they answer me back, I’m pretty sure it has something more to do with food or drink or annoyance at my yammering than whatever point I may have been trying to make.

The cats at home get quite a bit of chatter, as well. Often inquiries into what the heck they think they’re doing, particularly when the more wild of the three jumps onto the counter to snag some food right in front of me.

I also do as Ken, above, and sometimes try to speak the same language. I imagine, as likely as not, they’re more offended than impressed.

    To all you wonderful people. You know what you’re doing, don’t you. Your writing is so good and so funny that you are Occupying me out a job. Gene Logsdon

Not only do I talk to my animals, I often try to speak their language. Our chickens, and the neighbor’s horses and goats, don’t pay much attention. Our cat will usually respond in kind, but the dogs are not fooled when I try howling. They know I can’t speak dog, and usually don’t even perk up their ears when I try. Must be my accent that gives me away.

It was August. The grass was dry, and so was the ground, so the electric fence wasn’t working very well, even though I peed on the ground post whenever I’d had too much tea or beer.

The goats were bored, and had taken to getting into the neighbouring graveyard, nibbling on left flowers and leaving “raisinettes” behind on the grave stones. Grieving progeny were Not Amused.

After walking the fence, and finding nothing obvious, I accosted the herd queen, Maya.

“Where are you getting out, Maya?” I asked her.

She listened intently for a moment, facing me, then very clearly moved her head and “pointed” at a spot in the fence I hadn’t noticed in my inspection; a sprung blackberry cane had lifted the lower wire just high enough for a goat to wriggle through.

“Thanks, Maya!” I said as I pulled the cane out so the wire got back to a foot from the ground, where it was supposed to be.

    Talking to animals isn’t bad. It’s when they start to talk back to you that has me worried for my sanity.

    Maya story #2: I was out picking blackberries, and took the goats along with me for my company and to relieve their boredom. Deep into a thorny patch, I lost track of the flock for a while, but soon heard a low, huffing sound, sort of a “woof” but not quite so dog-like. I looked up, and there was Maya, making this petulant, irritated sort of sound. Then, she moved her head and quite deliberately pointed to a path in the woods that crossed a stream and went to another field.

    “Oh, so I’ve split the flock, and you’re unhappy with me about it?” I asked, not really expecting an answer.

    I followed Maya into the other field, and sure enough, there were the rest of the goats. I chased them around a bit, but they had found a nice patch of reed-canary grass, and weren’t about to be herded back. So I gave up and laid down in the grass, pulling my hat over my eyes.

    I hadn’t quite dozed off when that same not-quite-dog-like “woof, woof” sound shook me out of my reverie, and there was Maya standing above me. The rest of the flock were nowhere to be seen.

    “Where’d they go, Maya?” She pointed back at the path through the woods and over the stream. I followed her back to her flock, and managed to herd them all back to their paddock.

    Talking to animals is nothing to be embarrassed about. Listening to them, only less so. But taking their advice has me worried. What if Maya tells me to sell all my meagre investments? Does that mean another global financial meltdown is imminent? What if Maya says I should break the hay field and put in field peas? Does that mean she’s not getting enough protein? What if Maya expresses a preference in the next election? And what if it’s a candidate I don’t like?

    I don’t really know about any of those things, but I do know Maya gives good advice, and has made me a better listener.

The other day we had to put down our first (and best, and handsome-est) Icelandic Ram, Durin. He represented our first foray into farming, our first dreams for a flock, our aspirations for the future lambs…etc. I walked away from him as my husband made the shot. Straight to the horses, which were, before my shamelessly swimming eyes big blobs of blond fjord-ness. I leaned into Marta and said “Uhhhhhh.” meaning “oh help. this is awful.” She turned nuzzled me and continued eating not moving a budge as I buried my head in her fat Winter coat.

The longer I talk to animals, the fewer words I find necessary to say…both to them, and to other human beings. (Though, no doubt, my rambling comments here don’t seem to illustrate that…)

Shane walked into the kitchen and with a grief unexpectedly and exponentially deeper than mine said: “I wish he could have seen the Spring.” He’s gotten to coveting good grass for his animals so very much….

Whenever I feel the need for high-minded conversation I go out and talk with the trees-they have only one rule of engagement-no complaining- ah, the benefits they bestow.

Cows are great to talk to and seem to appreciate the attention! We have only 10 cows to milk now and they love the attention and will actually get kind of aggressive with the head butts until they get petted. The biggest problem with huge herds, in my opinion, is that you don’t get to appreciate the “individualness” of the cows. Just like dogs, cows have their own personalities and needs. I pity the poor tractor jockey/manager/mega-farmer who never gets to really “know” their cows! Oh, and they never get to call the cows in to the barn from the pasture. “Come bos” never appears in Dairy Herd Management magazine!

thetinfoilhatsociety January 25, 2012 at 11:03 am

Your son’s dog most likely did indeed understand you; studies have been done with dogs and pigs that imply they have the understanding and vocabulary of a five year old human (as least as relates to human things). I’m sure their understanding of animal related things far exceeds that.

We don’t have dogs but we do have cats. Our oldest cat not only speaks, but can spell. We had to start making up code words because she learned what the spelled out words meant! (treat, milk, food, eat, etc.) There are only a few words she says that I actually understand: out, milk (perfectly clear, believe it or not), mom – which sounds exactly like one of my kids would!

I think animals understand and intuit much more than we give them credit for.

Sorry, but I wasn’t aware that it was embarrassing to be talking to animals. Now, talking to humans, that always seems to embarrass me.

A psyciatric couch in front of every stall, with a sign, “15 ninutes – $20,00”. You’d need to blacktop the yard for 100 cars. With 100 cows at [4X$20] $80 an hour each you could make $64,000 a day and wouldn’t need ANYTHING from Washington, in fact half the cars there would probably have DC plates One side of the barn Demon-crats, the other Rip-off-licans. to avoid cruelty to animals give the cows valium.
Our cat is an incessant talker so I got her a Visa card and at the end of the month when the check comes I am going to pay off the national debt.

I’m sure glad you brought this up. Things were OK around here, not perfect but OK and then they started this Occupy The Barn business. All the clucking and baaaing that questions why I’m in charge of the feed room and why can’t we pass that responsibility around and it’s some new declaration of their rights morning and night. I’m thinking I need to drag the bar-b-que down and park it in the barn yard and tell them their going to Occupy The Bar-b-que if they don’t shape up.

Right now I wish my guinea fowl would shut up so I can get a word in edgewise. Foul birds!

I’m never embarrassed to get caught talking to my critters. In fact, I look askance when visitors don’t say hi to the goats, or chat up the geese…how rude!

This is *exactly* why I can’t wait to “husband” some critters of my own. ;^)

Your creatures are lucky. I’m as likely to sing as talk to them. That’s because my kids insisted I stop singing in the house.

Your describing my Dad. He not only talked to the animals (well, to himself really.) And he was loud enough be heard over the compressor and the silo unloader.

and they never argue back.

You have a different, better behaved, type of livestock than the stuff around here. My dog always argues, pretty much in the same tone and unintelligible mumble as my kids. The sheep are worse since no matter what assertion I make they either say “meh!” or “bah!”

I think in the case of the sheep, that pretty much sums up their views too. The dog on the other hand is clearly speaking in complete sentences but hasn’t the right kind of mouth to be understood. “Uh, doan wunna” and “Hey! Hey, You!” are the only two phrases I can understand but she says all kinds of stuff I can’t understand….

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