According to research, cows are generally very intelligent animals who can remember things for a long time. Animal behaviorists have found that cows interact in socially complex ways, developing friendships over time and sometimes holding grudges against other cows who treat them badly.
These gentle giants mourn the deaths of and even separation from those they love, even shedding tears over their loss. The mother-calf bond is particularly strong, and there are countless reports of mother cows who continue to frantically call and search for their babies after the calves have been taken away and sold to veal or beef farms." Read more
I want to point out that it's a bit deeper than that. "Sentience is the ability to feel, perceive, or to experience subjectivity. Eighteenth-century philosophers used the concept to distinguish the ability to think (reason) from the ability to feel (sentience). In modern Western philosophy, sentience is the ability to experience sensations (known in philosophy of mind as "qualia"). For Eastern philosophy, sentience is a metaphysical quality of all things that requires respect and care. The concept is central to the philosophy of animal rights, because sentience is necessary for the ability to suffer, which is held to entail certain rights." wiki
I'm currently wintering in cow country and farmville. In any direction I go I will see pastures of horses, cows, goats, sheep, alpacas, and chickens. Yesterday I stopped at a large cow feed lot. The troughs had just been filled and the cows were gathered on both sides of the little road behind fences.
I'm out with my camera talking up a storm with these cows. If the cow owners ever heard me, they'd think I was crazy for sure. The thing is, I was connecting with them. It's not my first time. I mooed at a group of cows last year and ended up with the whole herd standing there in a large mass just staring at me. I have photos to prove it!
Yesterday, these cows, up to fifty or more of them, held my eyes intently and the ones that were eating stopped to gaze at me. What animal stops eating like that? They slowly went back to eating, but continually paused to watch me. The whole herd began to gather and come toward me. Some were pushing through the crowd like someone does who has to see what all the fuss is about. If any group of animals could be said to look like a crowd of humans gathering around a super star or something, it was these cows. Even the cows at the back of the pasture began to walk toward me. They all had their eyes on me. And I mean all of them.
The most remarkable thing was when number 1-29 came up to the fence to reach my hand and offered her nose to be petted the way I would pet a horse. I was mesmerized. I'd never stroked a cow before. She backed away after I petted her and seemed to be processing what just happened and then came up for another pat before I left.
When I first wrote this piece I wrote this sentence, "Other cows stood around her as if admiring her courage and it seemed they wish they had the guts to be so curious." When a reader commented on Reddit about this here's what was said:
"Yes, it's obvious that cows are sentient, i.e. are aware of their surroundings and experience pain. But sentences like this make me cringe;"Other cows stood around her as if admiring her courage and it seemed they wish they had the guts to be so curious."Sigh, anthropomorphism like this just destroys any logical argument."
I get what the reader is saying. I actually agree. The way I worded that sentence is questionable. But I try not to anthropomorphize when I'm experiencing connections with other life forms. I don't want that label. I spend a lot of time in the field with my camera, and a lot of time with my subjects to 'get to know them' so to speak. I've written about my interactions with bees, spiders, butterflies, wasps, dragonflies, grasshoppers, chipmunks, birds, and list goes on. I'll never know for sure what any of these creatures were thinking. What I can do is simply express how it felt -- to me. I'm not saying it's what the animal was feeling, and there's a difference between saying "it felt to me" and claiming the creature was feeling such and such.
The whole encounter touched me deeply. I kept thinking I wish I could hear what they had to say. Their eyes had a story to tell me. I could feel it. They were so alive and full of want and desire. I kept talking to them. It was gut wrenching to know they were all going to be killed soon. If more people could have a chance to connect like I did, I wonder if it would change anything?
January 10 Update - I visited the cows again today. Cow 1-29 came up to me for a 3rd time and licked my hand just like a dog would. I also notice that cows startle easy. I need to move very slowly around them to not make them suddenly bolt. I don't know if this has anything to do with their treatment by humans, or if they're naturally jumpy. I want to pursue this to find out.
"Recent studies have shown that farm animals do in fact exhibit human-like qualities in terms of their emotional life and in their relations with other animals. Cows in particular, who are often used as an example to showcase mindless docility in animals, do in fact have a complex internal psychological life in which they bear grudges, nurture friendships and become excited over intellectual challenges. They're also capable of feeling strong emotions such as happiness, pain, fear and even anxiety." Source
~ By Duncan Geere, Wired UK
"Beef cattle are often reared outdoors on grass, although many are brought indoors or crowded into feedlots for fattening before slaughter. Even though many cattle in the UK, Ireland and Northern France are fattened on grass, many cattle are fattened indoors across most of Europe. In indoor systems, beef cattle are commonly housed on slatted floors in crowded conditions, which increases aggression and can lead to severe injuries and lameness." Source
"The undercover video shows workers dragging the calves by the ears, legs and tails. The USDA prohibits that treatment.
Dr. Grandin points out some of the calves are so young you can see umbilical cords, and that’s too young for them to have been removed from the dairy farm."
What seems typical with undercover investigations of this nature is that the managers and/or owners claim complete ignorance of any abusive treatment and once exposed agree to remedy the situation. This case is no different. Click for the graphic video and FULL REPORT. (I've watched too many videos of abuse, so I won't watch this. But if you're new to the topic of animal abuse in the dairy and agriculture industry, please don't turn a blind eye.)