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Robert Morris
"A Method For Sorting Cows"

published in Art and Literature 11 (Winter 1967)

It is essential to have a long corridor or alley with a large room or pen off to one side and approximately halfway between the ends of the corridor. naturally the more cows being sorted the longer the corridor and the larger the pen. Two men are required to sort cows in the method presented here -- it can be done by one man but the effort required -- the running, the stumbling, the falling, the sweating, the panic of the animals -- all of these things make it impractical. Essentially, the 2-man method is as follows. The cows are driven into the corridor past the gate of the room or pen. The gate to the room or pen must swing open toward that end of the corridor where all of the cows are crowded. The first man continues with cows past the gate. The second man stops at the gate; he is the gate man. The other man is the head man and makes all the decisions. When sorting cows the gate man's subordinate station should be well understood. He must, for the sake of efficiency and safety, never question the head man's decisions. Now imagine that the head man is down by the cows at the end of the corridor, always keeping himself between the gate man and the cows and keeping the cows crowded up against the far end of the corridor. He can do this easily by making fidgeting gestures. This keeps the necessary level of nervousness up among the cows -- so long as the cows are milling around the head man can tell that he has them in the palm of his hand so to speak. When ready to sort the head man brings the cows to attention by suddenly raising both arms straight out, bending both knees slightly into a kind of ply, dropping the upper part of his body and at the same time jumping with the lower. The head man should practise this motion until it is a smooth movement, yet one which transforms his entire being into a state of absolute alertness, potentiality and authority. A good head man will transfix upwards of 30 cows with such a motion. After the ready-to-sort movement is made and the cows are stock still, nearly hypnotized, the gate man should place his feet well apart and get a good grip on his gate. He should be slightly crouched and concentrating on the head man. Slowly the head man will straighten up and walk toward the cows, keeping just to the right of center, if the gate is on the left. The cows will inch toward the left side as he inches toward the right. A crowding will occur in the left corner until one cow will bolt out and down the left side of the corridor past the head man. But this is exactly what the head man wants. he knows just what to do with this cow: as it bolts he screams "by" or "in". If it is the former the gate man flattens himself against the gate and attempts to become part of the wall; if it is the latter, he immediately springs out into the corridor pulling the gate open at about a 60-degree angle. The cow will dart into the pen and he slams the gate and freezes to immobility and intense concentration on the head man. The inching toward the right on the part of the head man, a cow bolting, the in or by scream, the immobility or action on the part of the gate man -- so it goes until all of the cows except the last have made their exit from the end of the corridor. The last cow is approached by the head man in a more lyrical and less tense way; usually the last cow is also somewhat more relaxed and knows what is expected of him. One might say that the last cow is "shooed" since the expert timing of the head man is now not required. The cow will usually trot rather than bolt down the corridor to its destined in or by place. The head man must then turn to his gate man and say, "That's the one we're looking for."