Bibi Dumon Tak and Hans van der Meer

The Cows’ Paradise

Vivid portraits in words and photographs that open up the inner world of a bunch of lucky cows.

They’re lucky cows, the 46 creatures at De Leemweg, a retirement home for cattle. Generous animal lovers bought their freedom, saving them from a certain death in the slaughterhouse.

Once upon a time, Bikkel, Bregje and Sjoukje 214 were a calf in a crate, a pet on a children’s farm and a long-serving milk cow — until they were dumped. All of them have been rescued. Now they can graze peacefully on a safe bit of Dutch polder.

At the cows’ retirement home, they don’t have to do anything, and they’re free to grow old in peace. Bibi Dumon Tak made her debut with Het koeienboek (The Book of Cows), literary non-fiction that won her a Zilveren Griffel. In Het koeienparadijs (The Cows’ Paradise) she is returning to her favourite animal and getting inside the heads of these good-natured animals. Viktoria, Keesje and Deci — she has given a voice to more than twenty of them, allowing them all to tell their own stories. About how they broke out of the cattle trailer and went on

the run. About how they looked death in the eye and lived to tell the tale. With a great deal of compassion, Dumon Tak depicts these animals with a mixture of journalistic passion and imagination. Not by humanising them, but by keeping close to their daily lives. ‘We cows don’t think about the future and we don’t think about the past. We think about today,’ states Annie. And former laboratory cow Tolbert says: ‘Cattle want peace. The more boring our lives are, the better.’

By describing these cows from the inside, Dumon Tak brings their stories closer to us. Photographer Hans van der Meer does the same with his camera, but from the outside, portraying them so vividly that you can read the stories in their big brown eyes. In the way a weary animal lies contentedly in the sand. In the way a leg that was once broken stands on the grass, crooked but steady. The creators of this book affectionately give a face to these animals, who for so many people are no more than a consumer product.

Dumon Tak presents these life stories through the eyes of the animals themselves: you get to know these cow characters from the inside out and to identify with them. Hans van der Meer’s radiant photographs double that effect.


Van der Meer has captured these old-timers in such a way that it feels as if he has caught their personalities too.


Bibi Dumon Tak

Bibi Dumon Tak (b. 1964) studied Dutch Literature. In 2001, she made her debut as a non-fiction author for children with Het koeienboek (The Cow Book, 2001). Although Dumon Tak’s oeuvre consists for the main part of factual titles, the line between fiction and non-fiction appears to blur in her…

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Het koeienparadijs (2017). Children's books, 64 pages.


Hans van der Meer

Age: 9+