From The Times and the Sunday Times
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
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
Christine Nicol, professor of animal welfare at
Bristol University, said even chickens may 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.
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 years.
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
Their brainwaves showed their excitement; their
heartbeat went up and some even jumped into the air. We called it
their Eureka moment, said Broom.
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 self .
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
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 early 1960s.
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
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 summers day. Just like humans.