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Get to know cows

June 10, 2019

Cattle (often informally referred to as ‘cows’) are among the most common and iconic farmed animals. People who have spent time with them will likely agree that cows are valuable individuals with unique personalities. However, our limited exposure to cows encourages people to think they lack intelligence and sensitivity.

If you have never given much thought to the incredible individuals cows are, now is a great time to start!

Not all cattle are cows

Cattle are often informally referred to as cows, however, this is not always technically accurate! There are different terms for cattle depending on their age and reproductive status. A cow is actually a female that has given birth to at least one calf.

Cows are highly social animals who live complex social lives.

Cows often form strong lifelong friendships with one another. Sometimes they even choose their best friends the same day they are born! When separated from their friends, cows will become stressed. Cows help each other and learn from each other. They even form ‘grooming partnerships’ to keep each other clean and tidy, just like chimpanzees!

Despite popular belief, cows are actually very smart!

Social animals like cows need to be smart because they interact with each other in complex ways. They are curious and able to think critically and solve problems, and even show excitement and signs of pleasure when they solve problems! This suggests that cows are self-aware and can understand their own actions.

Cows have between 25,000 and 35,000 taste buds.

This is two to three times more taste buds than humans have! This large number of taste buds help them tell apart poisonous and non-poisonous plants. They also allow cows to enjoy both sweet and salty foods so that they can get the energy and nutrients they need to stay healthy.

Cows have great memories.

They can remember where things are located, such as water, shelters, and the location of their newborn calf. They can even tell people, other cows and animals apart by their shapes and colours! Don’t forget to be nice when you meet a cow, because they will remember you! If you are nice to them, cows are friendly – but it just takes one bad experience with one person for them to hold a grudge and not to trust anyone for a long time.

Cows have unique personalities and a wide range of emotions.

Like humans, every cow is unique, and possesses different personality traits – some are brave, some shy, some curious and some cuddly! They all have distinct likes and dislikes, and can experience emotions ranging from pain and sadness to pure happiness.  A number of studies have also revealed that cows depend on each other for emotional support. For example, cows have been shown to be less stressed when handled by humans if allowed to be in physical contact with or even just see their herd mates.

Cows have a very strong sense of smell.

Their powerful noses can detect odours up to 10 kilometres away! This helps them to navigate their complex friendships and respond to threats and other information in their environment.  For example, cows can detect the scent of stress hormones present in the urine of other cows, which helps them to avoid danger!

Cows seek pleasure and love to play!

Cows gallop, buck, play-fight, frolic, and chase after balls.  You may have even seen videos of cows running, prancing, and jumping when outside. Playing together helps cows learn many of the social skills they need to interact with one another.

Cows have incredible peripheral vision.

With eyes on both sides of their heads, cows have a field of vision of almost 360 degrees… that’s about twice as much as a human’s field of vision! Cows’ panoramic vision allows them to see in all directions without moving their heads. This way they can always be sure that there is nothing dangerous coming their way.

Cow grazing in a pasture

Meet a cow!

Now that you’ve learned so much about cows, try to get out and meet one! Try to plan a visit to the BC SPCA’s Good Shepherd Barn in Surrey or our Kelowna Recovery & Adoption Barn (make sure to ask if there are any cows for you to visit before you go!). Otherwise, try contacting one of our friendly SPCA Certified farmers to see if you can drop by for a visit. It is sure to be an experience you will never forget.

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