The Farmers’ Tale

By May 12, 2011General

I met with the man. We talked of cows, farmers and delivery of milk products to market.

‘Cows?’ he said.

‘The cows are the artists; we, the industry infrastructure, are the farmers’, I replied and hoped the rest was pretty obvious.

The man scribbled boxed illustrations of the link between cows, farmers and the market on his paper, soon to be added to a pile I estimated to be around 13 cm thick to his right.

After an hour or so it was time for the man to go.

‘I must go and talk to some more cows!’ he said as he left.


I reflected on this. Previously I had attempted mutual communication with cows. I’d tried a few (to my ear anyway), fairly convincing ‘moos’ but all that would happen would be that the cows would continue what they were doing; slowly pulling at and chomping on great chunks of grass, or reclining disaffectedly, ruminating on cud. Meanwhile the seductiveness of their form ––– large brown eyes, moist slapping tongues and lips and perpetually swelling pink swinging udders –– repetitiously enticed me to mindlessly continue with whatever my current allotted task was. [There were however, always many cowpats to dodge, but somehow, because these were the by–product of the lovely cows, this didn’t bother me as much as did navigation around the droppings of other animals.]

The cows would continually ‘moo’ day and night, and I did my best to understand, interpret and respond. I would wake early each morning and, rain or shine, 7 days a week I would go and enable the release, capture and collection of milk from their bloated udders; I would do the same again in the evening, at the expense of dining with my family –– there was always the microwave to heat something up when I finally made it back to the farmhouse.

In between the milking I would tend to the cows’ other requirements, rotating their paddocks so that they were always at peak health for milk production and keeping them in manageable lots so that no internal squabbles interrupted their peaceful grazing routine. [There is an optimum herd numerical limit above which milk production declines as the herd ceases to be supportive and communal and instead leads to an infernal struggle for each blade of grass per individual cow. We farmers had noticed these things.]

Beautiful cows, I thought.

I would also communicate with the market. This I additionally enjoyed. It was a different paradigm, but one that my intimate relationship with the cows allowed me to offer qualified information on exactly what types and quantities of milk production were appropriate to expect, and what was involved in meeting those expectations.

The market did remunerate me to deliver the milk in the variations and qualities it required, but preyed on my weakness for the cows and started to make unrealistic demands on what could be achieved by one farmer alone.

The answer may lie in a co-operative, I thought.

Farmers, however, for the most part are a solitary bunch and not strangers to scepticism and cynicism when pushed for a change of habit. Too many hard dealings with the market and long hours with the cows had done this to them.

There was to be no co-operative.

Next, there was a revolution.

‘The farmers must leave the farms and give them over to their rightful owners, the cows!’ someone shouted. ‘Who knows better how to efficiently get milk from a cow than the cows themselves!’ shouted another. It sounded to me like the man’s words, but spoken coming from many different voices.

I loved my cows.

But they were getting restless. They had sensed that something was up. Maybe through some unknown-to-me inter-cow communication network promises of access to extra hay and the novel excitement of delivering their milk to the market direct had been disseminated amongst them.

I was now very worried.

I tried talking to the man again, but he was gone, and no longer procurable for discourse in the role that I had previously made his acquaintance. Eventually I found him, now redeployed and appointed as Lord of the market, rubbing his hands together expectantly, (I confusedly presumed) at the prospect of unlimited numbers of over-full-uddered herds careering towards the market place, each individual within expecting an expert milking, afternoon feed and plenty of readily available green grass. [One could only assume that he believed he would make a killing by expunging the middleman; in reality however this was akin to removing the filling from a sandwich in the short-sighted belief that those eating it would not notice and be content with the bread alone.]

My herd departed the very next day. I soon gathered the same misfortune had befallen most of my colleagues, and found some respite in the fact that I was not alone in my fate. Collectivism had come to us at last, but not in the most productive way that I had hoped. Still emotional buoyancy was something to take from this.

As the cacophonic jostling commotion of dust, flying droppings, sprayed urine and leaking milk disappeared at incrementally increasing momentum into the distance towards market I stayed on my empty farm with its trampled fences, unused milking shed, tractor and the other accoutrements of travail that had been my companions in daily toil.

One cow, one of my favourites (there were many), did belatedly hesitate and seem to want me to continue to tend her needs as she made a more measured journey to market. She was not a particularly bright cow, but as cows go, she was fairly attractive (and let’s face it, if you’re a jersey, which was the breed I specialised in, it’s quite difficult to be unattractive).

‘But how can you pay me to help you on this measured journey? There are costs relating to all the things we must do’ I tried to ‘moo’ to her.

It was obvious, despite what I interpreted as her intention to somehow deal direct with the market and then reimburse me later that this was impossible and a task well beyond even a cow of superior intelligence to hers.

I did my best to give her what she needed for her journey and bid her farewell and good luck. I did this while the market indirectly communicated to me that they would no longer be requiring my services and therefore my stipend was terminated effective, immediately. I had helped this last beast in darkness, by hand and without food (as my family had long since fled, the power had been cut off and most of my tools of trade had been seized by the bailiffs).

Finally, after doing all I humanly could do for her, I said goodbye to my last cow.

I returned to my ruined farm and stood, redundant, in despair.

If you do not recognise the characters in the allegory above, the first person is the music industry infrastructure, i.e. the producers, engineers and studios that the artists (cows) used to have access to. The milk and the quality and quantity of it, is the music. The man is the force of the revolutionary change and what the music industry is becoming. The market is, obviously, the market, traditionally represented by record companies etc. The last cow is not one particular artist, but rather that group of musicians who try to self-fund. If you do recognise the characters and think my reading of the situation is foolish then shame on you, you should know better and the joke is on you my friend.

© 2011 Simon Holloway NZAMP


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