[Paleopsych] Sunday Times (UK): The secret life of moody cows
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Wed Apr 20 21:50:46 UTC 2005
The secret life of moody cows
February 27, 2005
Jonathan Leake, Science Editor
ONCE they were a byword for mindless docility. But cows have a secret
mental life in which they bear grudges, nurture friendships and become
excited over intellectual challenges, scientists have found.
Cows are also capable of feeling strong emotions such as pain, fear
and even anxiety -- they worry about the future. But if farmers
provide the right conditions, they can also feel great happiness.
The findings have emerged from studies of farm animals that have found
similar traits in pigs, goats, chickens and other livestock. They
suggest that such animals may be so emotionally similar to humans that
welfare laws need to be rethought.
Christine Nicol, professor of animal welfare at Bristol University,
said even chickens may have to be treated as individuals with needs
"Remarkable cognitive abilities and cultural innovations have been
revealed," she said. "Our challenge is to teach others that every
animal we intend to eat or use is a complex individual, and to adjust
our farming culture accordingly."
Nicol will be presenting her findings to a scientific conference to be
held in London next month by Compassion in World Farming, the animal
welfare lobby group.
John Webster, professor of animal husbandry at Bristol, has just
published a book on the topic, Animal Welfare: Limping Towards Eden.
"People have assumed that intelligence is linked to the ability to
suffer and that because animals have smaller brains they suffer less
than humans. That is a pathetic piece of logic," he said.
Webster and his colleagues have documented how cows within a herd form
smaller friendship groups of between two and four animals with whom
they spend most of their time, often grooming and licking each other.
They will also dislike other cows and can bear grudges for months or
Dairy cow herds can also be intensely sexual. Webster describes how
the cows become excited when one of the herd comes into heat and start
trying to mount her. "Cows look calm, but really they are gay
nymphomaniacs," he said.
Donald Broom, professor of animal welfare at Cambridge University, who
is presenting other research at the conference, will describe how cows
can also become excited by solving intellectual challenges.
In one study, researchers challenged the animals with a task where
they had to find how to open a door to get some food. An
electroencephalograph was used to measure their brainwaves.
"Their brainwaves showed their excitement; their heartbeat went up and
some even jumped into the air. We called it their Eureka moment," said
The assumption that farm animals cannot suffer from conditions that
would be considered intolerable for humans is partly based on the idea
that they are less intelligent than people and have no "sense of
Increasingly, however, research reveals this to be untrue. Keith
Kendrick, professor of neurobiology at the Babraham Institute in
Cambridge, has found that even sheep are far more complex than
realised and can remember 50 ovine faces -- even in profile. They can
recognise another sheep after a year apart.
Kendrick has also described how sheep can form strong affections for
particular humans, becoming depressed by long separations and greeting
them enthusiastically even after three years.
The Compassion in World Farming conference will be opened with a
keynote speech by Jane Goodall, the primatologist who founded the
study of animal sentience with her research into chimpanzees in the
Goodall overturned the then accepted belief that animals were simply
automatons showing little individuality or emotions. It has taken many
years, however, for scientists to accept that such ideas could be
applied to a wide range of other animals.
"Sentient animals have the capacity to experience pleasure and are
motivated to seek it," said Webster. "You only have to watch how cows
and lambs both seek and enjoy pleasure when they lie with their heads
raised to the sun on a perfect English summer's day. Just like
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