‘Our pet cow likes to moo-ve it!’

When Jamie-Lea Burns and best friend Michelle bought a play­ful calf as a pet, they taught it to surf and showjump. Now the bril­liant bovine is so pop­u­lar it has its own Face­book page and has even been on TV

Friday - - Society -

P lung­ing into the sea, I braced my­self. It was a sunny day at the beach but the South­ern Ocean was still cold. “Come on,” I called to my best friend Michelle. She dived in, fol­lowed by Pep­per. To­gether we splashed about, laugh­ing as the salty wa­ter sprayed our faces. “Look, she’s catch­ing a wave,” Michelle, 23, laughed as the surf pushed Pep­per to shore. All 400kg of her. You see, Pep­per is our pet cow, and prob­a­bly the world’s only body­surf­ing bovine. We take her to the beach to swim and catch lit­tle waves, we have taught her to showjump like a horse and she even comes into the house to watch TV with us.

We de­cided to get her af­ter Michelle and I had been work­ing to­gether as Jil­la­roos – Aus­tralian farmhands – shar­ing a house on a cat­tle sta­tion at Wil­lunga, 45km from Ade­laide, South Aus­tralia.

“Peo­ple think cat­tle are dumb crea­tures, but they’re not,” I said. “Just look at how they know when it’s milk­ing time.” With­out any­one telling them the herd of cows would just start walk­ing to­wards the milk­ing shed at the same time ev­ery day. “You’re right,” Michelle said. “I reckon a cow would make a good pet.” I couldn’t stop laugh­ing, but Michelle was se­ri­ous. “When I was seven I rode a cow at a coun­try show. I’ve wanted one as a pet ever since,” she said.

Even though we’d talk about the idea ev­ery once in a while, I never thought we’d ac­tu­ally buy a cow. But our house had 32 hectares of land and we al­ready had horses, two dogs, six pet sheep, a cat, a pos­sum and a scrag­gly old chicken, so there was plenty of room for one. “Let’s do it,” I grinned.

We wanted a calf we could raise our­selves, and we man­aged to find one half an hour’s drive away – a five-month-old Jersey-cross-Mur­ray Grey, which we bought for $350 (Dh1,285).

As we ar­rived at the farm we spot­ted a beau­ti­ful lit­tle calf. “I hope that’s her,” Michelle said.

It was. She had a choco­late-brown coat, the big­gest eye­lashes I’d ever seen and came up to my hip. “We call her Pep­per,” the farmer said. “Af­ter pep­per steak.” Pep­per gave my hand a big lick and I cud­dled her neck. “She’s so soft,” I sighed. Her coat felt like velvet.

We loaded her into our horse­box and took her home. “There you go,” I told her, putting her out in the pad­dock with the horses. “Play nicely with your new friends.”

That night Michelle and I de­cided to get pizza for din­ner. The restau­rant was only 350 me­tres from our home so we took Pep­per with us to col­lect our take­away.

I’d bought a hal­ter and lead and she didn’t make a fuss when I put it on and led her down the street. As we walked along a few peo­ple drove past, did a dou­ble-take, then came back for an­other look to make sure they weren’t dream­ing. “I don’t sup­pose a woman lead­ing a cow on a lead is a com­mon sight,” I grinned.

At the restau­rant Pep­per waited in line with us to place our or­der. “There’s no way that will fit on a pizza,” the restau­rant owner joked, eye­ing her.

Back at the house, we put her in the pad­dock. “Night Pep­per,” I said, kissing her nose.

Part of the fam­ily

Pep­per set­tled into her new home im­me­di­ately, graz­ing happily along­side the horses.

Michelle and I some­times took our horses down to Ade­laide’s Maslin Beach for a ride, and the dogs

usu­ally came for a run, too. “How about we take Pep­per?” Michelle sug­gested. “Why not?” I laughed. We loaded the an­i­mals up in the horse­box and set off. It was a nice day and there were plenty of peo­ple on the beach.

Jaws dropped as we un­loaded Pep­per and she fol­lowed us down on to the sand. “Let’s see if she likes the wa­ter,” I said.

We walked to the wa­ter’s edge, Pep­per trot­ting along be­side us. When we waded in, she fol­lowed straight away.

“She loves it,” I laughed, as the lit­tle waves buf­feted her and pushed her to­wards shore.

When we got out to dry off, a guy came over to get a closer look. Soon a lit­tle crowd gath­ered, all ask­ing ques­tions and want­ing to pet Pep­per. She loved the at­ten­tion and was lapping it up, mak­ing peo­ple laugh with an oc­ca­sional lick.

We went to sun­bathe for a while and Pep­per folded her legs up and sat down be­side us as if she wanted to get a tan too. “It’s like she’s hu­man,” I said.

Play­ing games

What sur­prised us was how play­ful Pep­per was. One day I was sit­ting in the lounge when I heard a clat­ter of hooves out­side. I thought that one of the dogs was chas­ing a horse.

Then a sheep ran past the glass lounge doors. It was fol­lowed by a dog and to my amaze­ment, both were be­ing chased by Pep­per!

In fact, chas­ing or be­ing chased was one of Pep­per’s favourite games. She loved chas­ing the horses or be­ing chased by them. And if we went into the pad­dock she’d chase us or run away so we’d chase her.

The push­ing game was pop­u­lar too. I laid on the ground and she pushed me with her head while I pushed her back with my feet. Given her huge weight ad­van­tage, there was no con­test.

We both thought Pep­per was re­ally smart, so de­cided to teach her some tricks. I set out a few lit­tle jumps and ran around the pad­dock leap­ing over them. Pep­per fol­lowed me and started jumping too. She could clear 60cm.

Then Michelle started putting a sad­dle on her back to get her used to that. “She’ll be able to give kids rides,” she said, re­mem­ber­ing her ex­pe­ri­ence of rid­ing a cow when she was lit­tle.

Soon Pep­per tol­er­ated the sad­dle and if we had any lit­tle vis­i­tors she’d let them ride her around the pad­dock. Pep­per loved play­ing with the chil­dren be­cause they al­ways gave her so much at­ten­tion.

When we took her to the beach she happily posed with life­guards in the wa­ter, wear­ing a life­guard cap. She even caught a few waves. “She’s body surf­ing,” I laughed.

A lit­tle boy kept star­ing at her. “Is that a di­nosaur?” he asked. I shook my head, ex­plain­ing that she was a cow, but I don’t think he’d ever seen one be­fore.

Af­ter­wards we went to a café for lunch and took Pep­per with us. “Peo­ple tie their dogs up out­side cafés so there’s no rea­son we can’t have Pep­per out­side,” Michelle shrugged.

Pep­per wasn’t alone for a mo­ment – so many peo­ple stopped to pet her. From then on we took her wher­ever we went, and she soon be­came ev­ery­one’s favourite. Mums, dads and chil­dren would all stop us to stroke Pep­per and ask when they could see her again.

“We should start a Face­book page to keep ev­ery­one up to date,” Michelle said.

“Great idea,” I replied. “We could in­clude pho­to­graphs and videos too.”

We called the page ‘Pep­per the cow’. As more and more peo­ple saw her and her page be­came more pop­u­lar, the lo­cal me­dia be­came in­ter­ested in Pep­per. She even ap­peared on lo­cal TV news run­ning in and out of the surf at the beach. As a spe­cial treat we al­lowed her into the lounge to watch her­self on tele­vi­sion.

“I think she knows it’s about her,” I grinned as she nuz­zled the TV. We let her in quite of­ten now. She’s no trou­ble. She just sits down on the floor and watches with us.

Grow­ing up

Pep­per’s now 18 months old and weighs 400kg. The vet thinks she’ll soon be big and strong enough to take an adult on her back.

Her jump train­ing is com­ing along re­ally well and we’re go­ing to en­ter her in a lo­cal showjump­ing com­pe­ti­tion, up against horses, as soon as we think she’s ready.

Farm­ers in Aus­tralia some­times take their cat­tle on long treks to new pas­tures. We’d love to take Pep­per and use her to round up the other cat­tle.

“It might be a bit con­fus­ing for all the cows though,” Michelle says.

Much as we both love our pet cow, it’s not put us off eat­ing steak. Be­ing two coun­try girls, there’s noth­ing we like bet­ter.

When Pep­per gets 1,000 likes on her Face­book page she’s even go­ing to do a per­sonal ap­pear­ance at a lo­cal steak house. She’s quite the lo­cal celebrity nowa­days.

I think peo­ple un­der­es­ti­mate cows and their in­tel­li­gence. Right now we’re teach­ing Pep­per The Har­lem Shake dance and she’s pick­ing it up. I do the move, then move her body to get her to do it too. She seems to love it.

Cows make great pets, though you prob­a­bly wouldn’t want one in your sub­ur­ban back­yard.

All they need is a bit of space, plenty of grass and some af­fec­tion. And if you can take them surf­ing oc­ca­sion­ally, they seem to like that too!

● Jamie-Lea Burns, 23, lives in Wil­lunga, Aus­tralia

Pep­per loves to splash around in the sea and is in train­ing for a showjump­ing com­pe­ti­tion

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