Monday, February 28, 2011

Cow Questions

At the risk of turning this blog into Bovine's View of the Islands, my father had some questions regarding the cows I keep mentioning, that I thought would actually be relevant to the blog, as they're related to how farm animals are treated and kept in the BVI.

Here are his questions:

1. Do the cows have owners? How do you know who the cows belong to/are the cows branded?
I believe most of the cows have owners, though perhaps not all of them. I've seen herds being driven by people down the North Coast Road before, and occasionally seen a cow or two tied up. I haven't seen any cows with brands on them. There are variations in cow colors that I think help an owner identify his cows. Otherwise, there simply aren't enough on the island for them to get that mixed up.

2. Are the cows slaughtered/milked/used for food?
Presumably. There's local beef available at the supermarket, so I imagine some of the cows go to slaughter. I haven't seen many local dairy products though, so I don't think they're really raised for their milk. Their generally free-ranging nature would likely make using them for milk rather difficult.

3. Do you see any evidence of pregnant cows? Any juveniles?
The small herd that I usually see on the drive to Cane Garden Bay recently added a member less than a month ago. I had to stop the car because the herd was in the road, and the calf came up to the window. It could just barely stick its snout in the car it was still so new. There is also a calf in the herd that ranges close to the house, although after six months, he's hardly identifiable as a calf anymore.

4. Are there no pens or fenced pastures at all? Are the bulls free-ranging also? Do some of them seem to be feral?
I honestly haven't seen any cattle pens. There are barbed wire fences around some properties, but these seem more designed to keep cows out than in. Some roads also have cattle guards, but no one cares for the guards, so they've become thoroughly ineffective. I've seen a big bull tied up on the high plains, but he's not always there. I've seen plenty of other free-ranging bulls. I think that the herd that lives near our house is likely at least partially feral, as I've never seen any humans near them or any signs of humans interacting with them (bells, brands, any other identification). Also, the number of the herd has remained the same over the six months we've lived here, which admittedly may not be a long enough period to use herd number as a judgment of feralness.

5. Does the BVI have an agriculture agency that monitors the cattle? If so, how?
There is an Agricultural Department, but my only interaction with them has been related to pet importation. I imagine there is some sort of mechanism for keeping a count of the animals, and certifying them for sale at the grocery store, but I also imagine it is not as strenuous as the USDA.

6. Is there a similar situation with swine?
No. Pigs seem to be very closely, carefully, and quietly cared for. Many islanders don't eat pork, and seem to disapprove of it, vastly preferring goat. The only time I've ever seen live pigs was driving through Sea Cow's Bay, when I saw two large hogs in the back of a pick-up truck, presumably on their way to be slaughtered. I have seen local pork in the grocery store as well, but it's much rarer than local beef.

I hope that answers your questions about the cattle of the BVI. And for those of you with less interest in farm animals, I'll try to refrain from any other cow posts for at least the next few days.

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