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     Volume 9 Issue 45| November 26, 2010 |


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A Shared Love


The meat of Mirkadim Cows is said to be a special delicacy. Photo: Andrew Jones

For a stranger like me living in a western European country, the city of Dhaka is overwhelming. The traffic, the many people on the road, the intense sounds and smells are not at all what we experience in our pretty quiet daily lives in our spick and span country. Just imagine: In Switzerland, the population density is about 170 persons per square kilometre, in Bangladesh there are 1100 persons on a piece of land of the same size. Of course, in terms of prosperity the two countries are likewise different.

Even so I experienced something that connects us very strongly. Yes, I believe it would be fair to say that Bangladeshis and the Swiss are pretty much alike in this special case. We share the same love for Cows. Well, nearly.

When a senior reporter of the Daily Star took me on a tour of the cattle markets of Dhaka two days before Eid, I surely felt like experiencing something very exotic. I will never be able to fade out the Bangladeshis ability to rush through the streets on any kind of vehicle or by foot, keeping an extremely fast pace and even so not colliding with each other. At the cattle markets, of course, they even manage to do so with squirming cows in tow.

But to trudge over cow dung and to avoid the animals staining your trousers when they unexpectedly feel like lifting their tails right next to you felt all so familiar. Swiss people grow up with cows. The animals are not only bred on remote farms somewhere up in the Alps, but also in the middle of villages and small towns, right next to residential areas. Most Swiss children know how strangely rough a cow`s tongue feels when you touch it. And personally, I find it calming and it makes me feel cosy when I lie in bed hearing the ringing of cowbells outside. Not to mention, that cow milk is the basis for the food the Swiss are famous for in the world: cheese and chocolate.

But let`s just skip these transfiguring declarations of love to cows for a moment. Cattle also mean business, naturally. And both Bangladeshis and the Swiss are experts in advertising them in the most extraordinary ways. On the cattle markets of Dhaka I saw a lot of animals festively decorated. Their horns were colourfully painted and they had garlands hanging from their necks. The cute calves and impressive bulls looked all washed and groomed. In one market in Old Dhaka I even spotted cows with a handful of glittery dust sprinkled on their backs.

The horns of cows at the cattle market are
colourfully painted. Photos: Andrew Jones

At cattle markets in Switzerland these strategies of convincing the crowd of the beauty, health and distinctiveness of one special cow are common too. But as the Swiss are known for their diehard perfectionism, they tend to try even harder to make their cows look marvellous. In the last few years there have been several reports of a new professional branch being on the rise. There are nowadays farmers who earn a good additional income by working as cow stylists. ``I use Coca-Cola and Sugar to dress a cows hair,`` told farmer Baerti Gisler of the Swiss region of Uri to journalists of the Blick newspaper. Cow stylists are experts in clipping and primping. They cut the cow`s hair so that the back of the cow looks perfectly straight. Also, they shave the hair around the udder, so that this part of the animal`s body is clearly visible.

Recently, there has been a discussion on whether such methods go too far. Some cow stylists had even begun to use hairpieces and fake lashes to make the cattle look splendid. At several cattle markets the use of styling facilities has therefore been banned, causing nasty disputes amongst Swiss farmers beforehand.

In Dhaka, there were Mirkadim Cows on sale before Eid. They are white in colour and their meat is said to be a special delicacy. With a Senior Reporter of the Daily Star I visited Rahmatganj cattle market, were these cows are sold exclusively every year. What I find most interesting is the special diet these animals have. The Mirkadim are fed with rice and chickpeas. Another Daily Star Reporter told me that they even sleep under mosquito nets. These cows are treated like babies and must lead a very happy life.

It seems clear though that Swiss cattle breeder try to cap it all, once again. For example, some of them give their cows a daily massage. That this helps to improve the tenderness of the meat is a lesson learnt from Japan, home to the famous Kobe cows.

As a lot of Swiss farmers depend on the sale of dairy products though, their main objective is to boost the milk production. This is why loudspeakers have been mushrooming in Swiss cowsheds for the last few years. In 2003, British researchers played music of different tempos to herds of Friesian cattle. They found out that calming music can improve milk yield, probably because it reduces stress. So tourists travelling through Switzerland should not be surprised to hear Mozart, Beethoven or even Simon and Garfunkel being played on Swiss Farms nowadays rather than traditional yodel music.

With Switzerland being such a small and hilly country, droves tend to be very small. This means that every farmer owns some dozens of cows at the most. What seems to be a great disadvantage is actually another quality feature. There is a very close relationship between breeders and their cattle. It is even common to give names to cows, the most popular seeming to be Susi. In any case, the writer of this article can`t remember having visited a Swiss cowshed without being introduced to a happily ruminating Susi.

Seriously, this close relationship means a lot to Swiss consumers. Switzerland`s largest supermarket Migros is highly successful with new price tags which inform the buyers about the exact origin of the piece of meat or cheese. Sometimes the price tags are even emblazoned with the picture of the respective farmer.

So, both Bangladeshis and the Swiss pamper cows, they care for them and make them up. How we still manage to slaughter and eat them with indulgence remains a psychological mystery.



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