The book was originally published by a small agricultural press before word of mouth—not least from the beloved English playwright Alan Bennett, who wrote the introduction—paved the way to a wider audience. Young describes her own work as simply a string of anecdotes and observations grouped around certain themes but the musings reveal things far more profound … Rosamund Young’s The Secret Life of Cows deserves its sudden reputation as a first-hand account of unutterable charm.
Young fleshes out observations like these with oddly practical points designed to undermine modern assumptions many people have about the alleged efficiency of “intensive” farming. The simplest truth she relates is one known to farmers for thousands of years: the happier animals are, the healthier they are … But the main thrust of The Secret Life of Cows is that there aren't any secrets, only obvious truths that are deeply uncomfortable for humans who've grown comfortable in the flow of the modern meat-production industry. ‘Bovine needs are in many respects the same as human ones: freedom from stress, adequate shelter, pure food and water, liberty to exercise, to wander about, to go for a walk or just to stand and stare…remove the qualifiers, and the truth remains unchanged: these animals are people, not commodities’.