The book meanders and explores at a bovine pace, and by the end Young carries her point ... She is so persuasive, in fact, that I finished the book wondering whether she, or anyone, should be in the business of raising livestock ... Young writes as if she’s the omniscient narrator of a pasture-based novel ... This passage walks a fine line between touching and laughable. It requires the reader to trust that Young enjoys special access to the mind of the cow, a talent that verges on the occult ... The Secret Life of Cows is deeply felt but not profound.
The Secret Life of Cows succeeds in showing that cows are thoughtful beings with individual personalities. At times Young's approach is whimsical, perhaps overly so, as when she translates what she takes to be bovine thoughts directly into human language ... This book will charm people who either didn't know...that farmed animals think and feel, or who want to lap up more evidence that they do.
Despite the seeming naivety of her narrative voice, Young is well aware of what she is up to. The anthropomorphism she takes to extremes is there to convert sceptics and provoke behaviourists ... She writes about them as though they were characters in a novel ... Her evidence for the qualities she finds in cows (empathy, guile, altruism, happiness, eccentricity) is anecdotal rather than scientific. But some of the stories are certainly compelling ... by writing about them as human, she’s calling for greater humanity in the way they are treated. Whatever else, no one who has read her book will look at cows in the same light again.