‘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
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.
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.
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