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Research done by Krista McLennan of Northampton University indicates that cows do indeed have 'best friends'.
For the study, cows were penned for 30 minute intervals twice, once with a preferred partner, a 'best friend', and once with a cow that they did not know. During this time, the heart rates of the cows were measured.
As it turned out, when paired with their best friend, the cows’ heart rates were significantly lower and they experienced less stress overall.
These findings not only have implications for the dairy industry, but also for the well-being of the animals.
The notion that cows have best friends indicates a great degree of personality in the species, and a desire, not unlike our own, to develop deep connections with others.
Not only are cows more calm when they’re around a buddy, but they’re actually smarter too. In a 2014 study, researchers from the University of British Columbia found that young calves that live alone perform worse on tasks of cognitive skill than those that live with a buddy.
One of these tests included a Y-shaped maze with a white bottle on one end and a black bottle on the other. At first, the white bottle had milk and the black bottle was empty.
Calves from two groups, those that grew up with a buddy and those that did not, practiced getting the milk from the white bottle. Both groups took the same amount of time to learn that the white bottle had milk.
However, once the researchers changed the formula, and placed the milk in the black bottle, the cows that grew up with a buddy learned significantly quicker where to find the new source of milk, indicating a higher level of mental flexibility and adaptability to change.
Both studies indicate the benefits of long-term social connection in cows.
We’re lucky that we could provide a home for both Cora and Henry at the Barn Sanctuary, two calves who grew up with one another, so that they can keep each other company.
Dan McKernan is Founder and Executive Director of Barn Sanctuary, a farm animal sanctuary in Chelsea, MI. He is a passionate advocate for animal welfare, environmentalism, and a plant-based diet. Dan has worked on projects for Special Olympics International, Special Olympics, Mandela Kids, Boy Scouts of America, and Camp Fire USA.
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