- Once they were a byword for mindless docility. But cows
have a complex mental life in which they bear grudges, nurture friendships
and become excited by intellectual challenges, researchers have found.
- Cows are capable of strong emotions such as pain, fear
and even anxiety 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 and chickens. They suggest
such animals may be so emotionally similar to humans that welfare laws
need to be reconsidered.
- The research will be presented to a conference in London
next month sponsored by animal welfare group Compassion in World Farming.
- Christine Nicol, professor of animal welfare at Britain's
Bristol University, said even chickens might have to be treated as individuals
with needs and problems.
- "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."
- Her colleague John Webster added: "People have assumed
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
- The Bristol researchers have documented how cows within
a herd form 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 years.
- Donald Broom, professor of animal welfare at Cambridge
University, will tell the conference how cows can become excited by solving
- 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.
- "The brainwaves showed their excitement; their heartbeat
went up and some even jumped into the air. We called it their Eureka moment,"
Professor Broom said.
- The assumption that farm animals cannot suffer from conditions
that would be intolerable for humans is partly based on the idea they have
no sense of self. Latest research suggests this is untrue.
- "Sentient animals have the capacity to experience
pleasure and are motivated to seek it," Professor Webster said.
- "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 humans."
- Copyright 2005 News Limited.