Severe Cow Warning
A tale of bovine bureaucracy that deserves more attention
It’s been a while since I wrote something that wasn’t work-related. That’s because, when I haven’t been taking conferences online and back off again, I’ve been writing Just Evil Enough, which is long overdue. And if I’m honest, the Internet is just exhausting right now. Land wars, platform wars, debates over AI and government apps, ignoring climate change, and other Stupid Human Tricks are giving us all online PTSD.
At the same time, I feel like I’m not nerding out on interesting things like the Suez Canal blockage, gamifying political debates, bad translation, or making boardgames enough.
If you want more random musings, fill this in.
So it’s time for a bit of a palate cleanser. Let’s talk about rogue cows, and maybe even bureaucracy.
First off, credit where credit is due: Mathieu Murphy-Perron has been covering this since late November on Tiktok, so you should go watch and follow him. He’s definitely on Team Cow, and his enthusiasm is infectious.
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The story he’s reporting on has been written up mostly in the French press, although there’s an English explainer post out there too. Pretty sure it’s going to be a Kind Of News We Need Right Now on Seth Meyers. Since I speak French, I went and read the sources.
Rogue cattle, and the bureaucracy that’s kept them free.
In July 2022, a group of around fifteen cows jumped the fence of a dairy farm in Saint Barnabé after being startled by thunder. They’ve been roaming around the Quebec municipality of Saint-Sévere. Pierre Lapointe, the cows’ owner, said he’d need a month to get them. “They’re jumping fences like deer,” one witness told reporters.
The cows are pretty sneaky. They head out at night, eating food where they can find it, and hide in the forest by day. Their herd is getting bigger, too. “There were fifteen at the start, but now there are around 20. It’s not funny,” said the farmer after initial attempts to recapture them.
But their biggest advantage may be the bureaucracy the town is up against.
The municipal manager, Marie-Andrée Cadorette—who has become a folk hero in all this, and is appearing on popular news programs in Quebec—can’t do much, as the cows are on private land.
The owner isn’t responding to cease-and-desist orders, but it’s summer, and things limp along for a while. In the meantime, the cows are doing tens of thousands of dollars in damages to corn (which they eat) and soy (which they sleep on.)
Winter is coming
Come October, however, things start to change. It’s getting colder, and food is becoming scarce. The cows head into town, crossing the main road. At night. Worried that there’s going to be an accident, the manager calls the Ministry of Agriculture, but they tell her they can’t do anything because they don’t have tranquilizers. They suggest she calls the Ministry of Wildlife. “When you hit [a cow with tranquilizer] do you think the others will wait patiently?" said the mayor of the town, Jean-Yves St-Arnaud, in an interview.
She calls the Ministry of Wildlife, who tell her that since cows aren’t wild animals, it’s not their jurisdiction, and tell her the SPCA might be able to help.
The SPCA says nope, and tells her to go call the Ministry of Agriculture. After 40 minutes, they tell her she’s going to have to kill what is now a rogue herd of 30 cows herself.
“I told them, ‘what do you mean, you?’ And they replied, the municipality. So I replied, ‘The municipality is me, in my dress and high heels. I’m not going cow hunting.’ So they suggested I call the police.”
When she objects, they suggest she call the cops. So she calls the Sûreté de Québec (the provincial police), who tell her, no, we won’t fire our weapons without cause. So she’s stuck.
Then she realizes there’s a Western festival in the nearby town of Saint-Tite, full of cowboys. She phones them up, and they’re thrilled. This is what they live for. On October 30, eight cowboys—and a drone—ride 40km at night to try and find them. The cowboys are making progress, guiding the herd towards an enclosure. But then one slips out of the makeshift pen, and they all flee. The cows hide in a field of unharvested corn, where the drone and the cowboys can’s see them. They give up.
At this point, the Union of Agricultural Producers gets involved, and takes the Ministry of Agriculture to task. The farmer, facing increased pressure, shuts down a highway at night to try and catch them. Soon after, he gives up.
The union decides to set up traps, leaving food around the community. While the cows do come out to look at the food, they’re savvy, and never touch it. Winter’s approaching, and people are concerned about the cows. The mayor of the town has gone on Facebook to warn people not to head into the woods and spook the cows.
Things go public
At the start of December, some people report that the cows have vanished. There’s speculation that the cows are traveling at night and headed South, but also speculation that this is intentional misinformation to keep tourists and protesters from descending on this tiny town of less than 400 people.
The Front de Libération Bovin de Québec—a play on the FLQ, a separatist terror organization that kidnapped elected officials and led to Trudeau the Senior putting boots on the ground in Quebec in the seventies—has released a manifesto. And of course, Mathieu has cow merch now. The story is getting coverage in France and Switzerland, but doesn’t seem to have broken into the English media yet, outside of a few bland stories in Canada’s national media.
In late November, a federal senator read an homage to the cows in Canada’s house of parliament, praising Cadorette for being the only sane person in the entire bureaucratic mess.
Whether you speak French or not, the laughter in this video speaks volumes.
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