Urs Mannhart’s book Lentille is a blend of reportage and essay that delves into the life of a cow. Those who gently inch closer to them will discover that these animals have a fascinating character – and much more besides.
Two days a week, the writer and organic farmer Urs Mannhart works on a farm in the Jura region of western Switzerland, not far from La Chaux-de-Fonds. On this farm lives a young cow named Lentille. Part of a herd of eight, she is about to give birth to her first calf – and this is where the book begins. The birth drags on for quite some time and takes a tragic turn as a result; this dampens the mood at the farm and also raises many questions, including whether Lentille is grieving for her stillborn calf – and whether she is even capable of mourning.
What do we actually know about animals, such as the ‘personality’ of a cow or a pig? For example, what does a cow need to feel content, and how do we tell what this is? And in the agricultural sector, how can we balance using these animals for our benefit with ensuring their well-being?
These questions are on the minds of many people, but they are not easy to answer: ‘We can’t know how animals are doing because, unfortunately, we can’t ask them,’ someone once said.
In an extremely clever and elegant way, Urs Mannhart combines reporting on his current experiences on the farm with an essay on the fundamental questions of animal welfare. We are introduced to Galia, the lead cow who keeps the herd together even when things get unsettled, and to Ambre, the elegant loner, who is rather placid but can be fast when the situation calls for it.
Mannhart repeatedly delves into research on animal ethics and animal psychology, and discusses the subject. He also takes a look at the world of industrialised dairy farms, where the ‘working life of dairy cows’ plays a role and milking robots milk the cows. Where not farmers, but ‘herd managers’, are responsible for managing the livestock – which, in turn, are primarily seen as ‘a package of features’.
But there are also the beloved cows that Urs Mannhart tells about, with great knowledge, full of empathy and never excess sentimentality – making his inspiring book a little gem.
Text by Martin Zingg
- Lentille. Aus dem Leben einer Kuh
- Mattes & Seitz Berlin
- Translation rights
- Loan Nguyen, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Publication date
Urs Mannhart, born in 1975, is a writer, reporter and organic farmer who lives in La Chaux-de-Fonds. His most recent publication was (Secession) Gschwind oder Das mutmaßlich zweckfreie Zirpen der Grillen [Gschwind or the presumably purposeless chirping of crickets].
Photo: © Beat Schweizer