My father grew up on a dairy farm in Ireland, and the intelligence of farm animals has long been a hot topic for him. From informing my siblings and me that pigs bathe in mud to protect their skin from the sun to asserting that cows who are sold onto other farms find their way home to their loved ones, my dad has been convinced for at least as long as I’ve known him that the level of intelligence among cows and pigs is comparable to that of average human beings. (He even had a small pet pig for a long time – and liked this pig better than any dog he has had since!)
Any time throughout my childhood that I dared comment to my father on the intelligence of monkeys, dogs, cats or horses, my comment would be met with the same thick-Irish-accented response: “Monkeys don’t have anything on pigs, Fiona.”
After hearing recently from an alternative source that cows cry in slaughterhouses before they are about to die, I decided to look up farm animal intellect. It turns out that Farmer Patrick (my dad) is not completely wrong – most of the studies performed and articles written, however, have been published in the U.K. rather than the United States (something to think about in terms of how our nation regards controversial issues).
The idea of cow-tipping along with the particular tone of a “moo” (for anyone who has had the pleasure of overhearing one) are cow characteristics that have perhaps misled us into thinking of cows as the essence of “dumb.” Cows are actually incredibly emotionally complex beings.
Various studies have proven their ability to feel anxiety with rather intense capacities, wherein physical displays of anxiety preceded their cause. This means that cows anticipate the future, which in turn means they have a sense of the future — a huge landmark when it comes to measurements of intelligence. In slaughterhouses, they HAVE been observed to cry; my father tells many other stories where he has observed the same thing.
John Webster, a professor of animal husbandry at Bristol (U.K.), has performed the most progressive research on this front – after doing intensive research and performing numerous studies, he has come out with a book on this topic called “Animal Welfare: Limping Towards Eden.” He has demonstrated the emotional complexity of cows through their displays in herds, wherein they are shown to have close friendships as well as deep grudges (one cow refused to “talk” to her daughter after her daughter would not let her near her new calf — implying to me personally that there may have been a longstanding battle in place!). He has also documented sexual habits among cows, and – attention homophobics trying to use “nature” or “science” against homosexuality – these ladies are pretty sexual together.
Interestingly enough, Webster also ran tests to find out cows’ ability to solve puzzles – not only were they more than capable of achieving a solution, an electrograph measuring their brainwaves showed them to actually ENJOY (via stimulation) the challenge. This means that cows have a sense of “self” – an understanding of themselves as an actor in the world.
This is groundbreaking. It explains why there have been numerous reports of cows escaping slaughterhouses, finding their way home to their loved ones after DAYS of walking when sold onto other farms and figuring out ways around electric fences and doors in order to attain something that may be on the other side – they like the intellectual challenges, and like humans, have the capacity to see themselves as navigators.
This is further reaffirmed by a study performed by Catherine Douglass, the leader of the Newcastle University team in the U.K.; she found that cows who were given a name and treated like separate and cared-for individuals produced significantly more milk than cows who were not.
Pigs are not different — it was this same Douglass who pioneered research on them. They have the ability to understand and interpret their days (and presumably longer periods of time as well — but more research needs to be done), and to translate interpretations of their days into feelings. This means that pigs analyze according to their emotions, the same way that humans (and cows) do — this means that they are not only AS SMART, but SMARTER than dogs. A series of tests using Pavlovian methods further showed that like cows, pigs are also able to anticipate the future. They, too, likely cry in slaughterhouses when they realize their fate.
Sheep and chickens are undergoing research currently, but the more substantial information has been found on pigs and cows thus far. The only thing I found that is worth mentioning about sheep is that they have been found to form deep attachments to human beings, in a manner similar to dogs — they can love a human being so much that they will recognize them after years of not seeing them, and they fall into deep depressions when humans that they love leave their lives.
A word about this article before concluding: It is not at all satirical. I know my tendency is otherwise, and thus I feel this disclaimer is necessary. That being said, I have one more important point to make.
I am not a vegan, nor am I a vegetarian. I have always subscribed to thinking that the circle of life is not something we can fight. However, upon researching farm animal intellect, my thinking is changing — Webster asserts that: “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.”
The implications of animal intelligence are huge, and bring with them milestone implications for our shameless abuse of these animals for our own consumption (and, quite honestly, mass discarding). Something needs to be done about the treatment of animals on farms and in slaughterhouses across America, Europe and the world. I have seen firsthand the cruelty of animal “care” on farms in America, Ireland, China and Mongolia.
I now further acknowledge the inhumanity associated with castration, cow-calf separation and veal production, among others. It seems that we have been using the “circle of life” to perform serious genocides upon defenseless beings that we keep dependent upon and submissive to us through their own understanding and fear of pain.
I used the following sources in the construction of this article, and highly recommend anyone interested in the topic to read them as well:
www.goveg.com (**NOTE: propagandistic, but the videos are located there)