About Cows

Emotional Life

Despite appearing unexpressive by human standards, cattle are a sophisticated bunch who communicate with each other on many levels. Under natural circumstances, cattle live in herds with social hierarchies and form lifelong bonds with each other. Many researchers have found that cows and other farm animals definitely have feelings and emotional lives. It is even suspected that cows have the capacity to worry about the future.

When they are separated from their families, friends, or human companions, cows grieve over the loss. Researchers report that cows become visibly distressed after even a brief separation from a loved one. Cows are especially dedicated to their young and the bond formed between a mother and her calf remains long after the baby has grown to adulthood. Separation causes them tremendous stress and agitation. If mother and calf are separated by a fence, the mother will wait for her calf, even through harsh conditions like intense heat or cold weather, hunger and thirst. Cows have even been known to break fences and walk miles to be reunited with calves that were sold at auction. One can imagine the trauma a dairy cow must feel when her calf is taken from her shortly after birth. It’s well known to farmers but rarely discussed that mother cows continue to frantically call and search for their babies for days after the calves have been sold off to veal farms.

Not surprisingly, studies have found that cows recognize and respond to kind treatment from humans. Edmund Pajor of Purdue University said that cows will actually produce significantly more milk when they are spoken to gently than they do when shouted at and handled roughly. According to Purdue’s findings, it doesn’t take much for the cows to feel badly – they reacted poorly to even a simple slap on the rump meant to keep them moving. Cows don’t forget being hurt and seem to hold grudges not only against other cows, but also against people who have hurt them or their family members.

Problem-solving and learning

Much like humans, cows vary widely in intelligence and personality. Some seem bold and adventurous while others are shy and reserved. Some cows are very clever but some learn slowly. They can be friendly or aggressive, and sometimes even appear to be proud.

When put to the test, many cows have proved to be quite good at problem solving. What’s more, a study led by Donald Broom, a professor at the University of Cambridge, found that cows enjoyed intellectual challenge and got excited when they overcame obstacles. It’s no wonder that cows raised for slaughter have been known to plan escapes, leaping six-foot fences or swimming across rivers.
Another indication of cows’ intelligence is their ability to learn things from each other through their social interaction. According the Humane Society of the United States, if an individual cow in a herd is shocked by an electric fence, the rest will become alarmed and learn to avoid it without ever being shocked themselves.

Green eating

A true vegetarian, cows will only eat plants in a natural setting. Like goats and sheep, they are ruminants, meaning that they chew their food and swallow it, then spit it up for another round of chewing once it’s partially digested. This re-mashing of regurgitated food is called chewing the cud. Four large stomach chambers also help the cow to process large amounts of plant food. Cows usually lie down after eating in order to devote more energy to digestion.

Did you know?

  • Cows can communicate with each other by “mooing” frequently. This helps them keep in contact, especially when it is dark. Cattle also communicate through a wide variety of physical movements and facial expressions.
  • Cows have been known to form lifelong friendships.
  • Cattle will look out for the old and weak members of the herd. When dairy cows return to be milked, a leader is selected to guide the way.
  • Their mother’s milk and good exercise are crucial to the growth of a happy calf. In a natural environment, a calf nurses for up to eight months (much more than the few days or hours that factory farms allow). This is how the calf receives all the nutrients it needs and develops its immunities. The calf’s strength and coordination are built through playing with other calves.
  • Not all cattle are cows. Cow is a term used to describe female cattle that have given birth. Females who have not yet had any babies are called heifers. Males are called bulls and the young are known as calves.
  • Cows have excellent senses of hearing and smell. They can hear high and low frequencies better than humans, and can detect odors from as far away as 8km.
  • A cow’s coat is like a snowflake – each spot on a cow is unique so no two cows are exactly alike.
  • Often people think that bulls have horns and cows do not, but both male and female cattle can have horns. Cattle deal with attackers by lowering their heads and charging, so horns can help a cow protect her calves from predators. Cows living in herds will co-operate to protect all their young.


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