Student - October 22, 2009

Cows

I stare at the monitor, deep in thought. Mmm, where should I begin? The cursor is blinking. I carefully read through my research questions again. 'What now?', I ask myself. 'Well, I might have some e-mails.' I look at my colleagues. Oh no, they are all incredibly busy. Actually, I'm pretty busy too - very busy, even - only I'm not quite sure what with.

My assignment is simple. I'm on an internship with a small nature conservation organization. They have cows grazing in their nature reserves. Sometimes lots of cows, sometimes just a few cows; in some places they graze all year round, in others just for a season. All I have to do is figure out how to evaluate this ecological grazing.
Grazing has been a hot item since the eighties so there's no shortage of literature. One report says year‑round grazing is the only solution while another says the main thing is to experiment. Wow, that's really going to help. 'Look here, forestry workers, I've done all this research for you: so just try any old thing.'
I seem a bit of an amateur when it comes to field work too; even with my in-car navigation system I fail to find the Westelbeers chapel. It's more than an hour later than planned when the keeper and I finally take a look at the site. The keeper says optimistically that he's expecting me to come up with some good solutions as I'm the expert. Or is he being ironic?
My colleague Thijs glances over my shoulder at the screen from time to time. 'Are you still working on those stupid cows?' He gives an exaggerated sigh and gets back to his own work. I have now consulted 64 sources, visited I don't know how many keepers and typed up more than fifty pages with all kinds of assumptions and reservations. And I still don't know what effect large grazers have exactly.
I hope the cows have been more productive over the past few weeks than I have. /Stijn van Gils

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