Cow 569 is dead

COW 569: The black and white friesian that saved Kim Riley’s life is now memorialised in her picture books.
COW 569: The black and white friesian that saved Kim Riley’s life is now memorialised in her picture books.

She lies in an unmarked grave in a paddock at Kim Riley's Woodville lifestyle block.

A black and white friesian with a massive stomach and an even bigger heart, her swimming prowess continues to wow children the world over.

In November, after a life spent producing 12 calves, thousands of litres of milk and one cracking good story, she took ill.

Cow 569 was 17.

"All good things come to an end," Kim says suppressing a tear.

Kim had spent close to an hour in the bloody, muddy backwaters of a heavily swollen Manawatu River in the early morning of November 15 when 569 performed her heroics.

"We had floated on the current down to where the Woodville motocross was held at the time and there were cows on the land. I thought I would try to get there.

"That was when 569 turned and I could see she was thinking the same thing.

"I put my arm over her neck and I could feel her heart absolutely pounding."

Cows are fantastic swimmers. They blow their stomach up to float, Kim says. And they have serious power in the doggy paddle.

Even so, as Kim's feet touched ground she couldn't believe it had worked.

"You know how you get so full of adrenaline that you just can't stand up. I turned to jelly."

Kim had only found herself in the flow in the first place because it was dark. She'd gone to check on the cows at 4am and found water where it had never been before.

"This area is a bit of a basin for Norsewood to the north, to Eketahuna in the south, and the way it rose around here, it poured out of the hills just like someone was running a bath."

The cows became spooked and began to run. Kim, concerned for their safety, followed them, trying to head them off.

"Then I realised I was floating. It was just suddenly that the ground was not there any more."

The group of cows surrounded her in the water, banging into her in their search for dry land. Her feet touched barbed wire fences below.

"It was really spooky being amongst them because I knew they wouldn't care about what happened to me."

Two picture books that she subsequently created in a deal with Random House turned 569 into an overnight hero.

But Kim doubts there was a lot of compassion in her actions. "She wasn't happy to see me. I was the last thing she needed."

Ten years later the Rileys are on the cusp of moving. A house in Top Grass Rd, closer to the farm, awaits them.

It means leaving 569 to the ages - swimming on only in print and memory. "She was always number 569 to us, we never considered giving her another name, but she was more than a number. She was special."

Manawatu Standard