The Lives of Cattle
Cows are empathetic and socially sensitive animals. A cattle herd is a community, and its members rely on each other for a range of emotional needs. For example, studies show that cows are less stressed by unfamiliar circumstances when they are with cows they know. They eat less feed when other cows they associate with closely are stressed.1 And when they are separated from the herd, their behavior becomes restless and their levels of the stress hormone cortisol spike.2
Cows are also intelligent. According to the most current studies, not only are cows good problem solvers—they actually enjoy the thrill of discovering causal relationships.
Observations of dogs have documented their tendency to perform better when engaging in tasks they intrinsically find rewarding (as opposed to just being given a treat). And Donald Broom, a professor of animal welfare at Cambridge University, has suggested that all intelligent animals might similarly “not only get excited about, for instance, the expectation of a reward, but also about realizing that they themselves … control the delivery of a reward.”3 Broom’s studies have borne out this hypothesis: Cows, he explains, appear to “react emotionally to their own learning.”4 When cows he studied made significant advances in learning, their heart rates shot up and their stride became more vigorous. As he describes it, they had a “Eureka moment.”5 The ability to express these robust capacities is denied to beef cattle during the latter half of their lives on feedlots, and dairy cows are never granted such an opportunity.
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- 1. Marie-France Bouissou et al., “The Social Behaviour of Cattle,” in Social Behaviour in Farm Animals, ed. L. J. Keeling and H. W. Gonyou (Saskatoon: CABI Publishing, 2001).
- 2. ibid.
- 3. Kristin Hagen, “Emotional Reactions to Learning in Cattle,” in Applied Animal Behavior Science, Vol. 85, ed. Per Jensen and Carol Petherick, (Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2003): 203-213.
- 4. ibid.
- 5. Jonathan Leake, “Cows Hold Grudges, Say Scientists,” The Australian, February 28, 2005.