Image by Gonzalo Facello

FARM ANIMAL COALITION
COWS

Learn about cows

Cows are amazing creatures, however, they are often regarded based on what they could do for us as commodities instead of their true selves. In truth, they are highly sentient and possess diverse emotional capacities. Based on the remarkable paper “The psychology of cows” by Lori Marino and Kristin Allen in the Animal Behavior and Cognition journal, which was completed by utilizing various findings of scientific research, some key takeaways about cows are summarized as follows:

Let's get scientific about cows!

a) Senses

 

Cows are day-time animals that utilize all five senses. With vision as their most dominant sense, they have a wide field of view (330 degrees) but a narrow binocular vision of 30-50 degrees with a blind spot directly behind them. They notice mobile objects more than static ones and are easily alarmed by sudden movement (Adamczyk et al, 2015).

 

They can hear sounds between 23Hz to 35 Hz, which is better than horses. But  their sound localizing ability is not very acute, leading them to be more alarmed as they could not be sure of the location of the predator (Adamczyk et al, 2015).

 

Cows have the ability to differentiate between the four main tastes, namely sweet, salty, bitter and sour. While they dislike the bitter taste, they possess a significant liking for sweet and salty food. Do you know that they could seek salt by taste and smell? Aside from that, cows are sensitive to sour tastes, which is helpful for them to maintain balance in their rumen (Ginane, Beaumont & Favreau-Peigne, 2011).

 

Cows have a good sense of smell and touch. They generally use the sense of touch to feel food items. Cows are prey animals, therefore, sometimes they repress pain to avoid detection by predators (Bomzon, 2011). Although cows normally are afraid of human touch, they can feel more at ease with touch like scratching behind the ears (Moran, 1993).

 

 

 

 

 

 

b) Cognition

Cows demonstrate the ability to discriminate between objects, geometric shapes, same shapes of different sizes, animals from the same species and animals of the same species according to various studies. Additionally, they possess remarkable spatial memory and complex learning capabilities as well as retaining long-term memory.

 

c) Emotions 

​Various research to date has shown that cows have diverse emotions, ranging from positive to negative, which are of a complexity comparable to those previously detected in other mammals. Their play behaviors and the engagement of emotions and cognition shown in cognitive bias, emotional contagion, social buffering and reactions to learning are indicative of this. Moreover, researchers have concluded that the act of separating mother cows and their calves can create strong negative emotions in cows which are akin to anxiety and anguish (Solano, Orihuela, Galina & Aguirre, 2007). 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

d) Personality

Similar to other animals, cows are creatures with personalities. Nevertheless, currently, there is a dearth of research that can shed more light on how their diverse personality traits correspond to one another. Little is known about other rich personality attributes that cows might have aside from those that pertain to them being used as goods. 

e) Social complexity

Empirical evidence suggests that cows are animals that could establish large social groups with marginal differentiation at the collective level, but on the individual level, they show an inclination of associations. Similar to other ungulates, cows tend to uphold a matrilineal principle (Bouissou, Boissy, Le Neindre &Vessier, 2001).

Cows are capable of maintaining social bonds with their offspring and herd members. Sub-groups are founded on the basis of familiarity and kinship for grazing calves (Kiley-Worthington & De la Plain, 1983; Sato, Woodgush & Wetherill, 1987). The nurture from the mothers is extremely important to cows as it has an impact on its welfare in terms of societal tendencies, psychological dispositions and cognitive abilities. Studies by Wagner et al in 2015 indicated that calves which are constantly within the care of their mothers and their herds demonstrate a higher level of social interaction and a lower level of physiological reactivity. On the other hand, mother cows have also been detected as having the tendency to adjust themselves to better accommodate the needs of their offspring (Stehulova et al, 2013). 

Research into the impact that comes with different housing suggests that cows are capable of social learning, especially if they are raised under natural social conditions as evidenced by the findings from the study by Costa et al in 2016.

 
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Fun facts about cows!

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