​Gentle Giants: Six Reasons Why Cows are Clever

22nd Oct 2017

Cows may be slow movers but they are surprisingly fast thinkers, as they display many advanced cognitive abilities. These sweet creatures also have unique personality traits: some are cheeky or bossy, while others are shy or friendly. From their appreciation of music to their ability to remember faces, we reveal seven ways that cows are smarter than you may think.

Problem Solvers

Research by University of Sydney student, Alexander Green, revealed that cows have sophisticated decision-making abilities. She placed cows in a maze and found that they were able to follow sounds in order to navigate their way to a tasty treat. Other studies show that cows are capable of switching a lever to gain access to drinking water, and that they can press a button with their heads to release grain.

Music Lovers

Cows are naturally curious animals that are drawn to musical melodies. A quick YouTube search of the words ‘cow + music’ will bring up thousands of videos of guitarists, singers, and even trombone players entertaining herds of inquisitive cows.

Bovines have long had a history of response to sound. Scandinavians still use a traditional technique known as kulning, where women sing to herd cattle over hills. Adrian North ran a study on 1,000 cows where he played them music 12 hours a day (R.E.M and Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, if you must know). He found the cows that listened to music were more calm and relaxed.

They Can Hold a Grudge

A team of scientists working at Bristol University discovered some interesting information relating to cows and their emotions. Their report states that cows have a "complex mental life in which they bear grudges, nurture friendships and become excited by intellectual challenges".

They Display Emotion

A study led by Cambridge Professor, Donald Broom, showed that cows feel emotions when they successfully complete tasks. Brainwave data from the research suggests that cows can feel joy, excitement and grief.

Alpha Animals

Cows can recognize over a hundred members of a herd. They work together to select a leader based on personality traits that include intelligence, self confidence and inquisitiveness, as opposed to size and strength. They tend to form close bonds and prefer to spend their time with between 2 and 4 ‘BFFs’ (bovine friends forever).

Super Creatures

These gentle animals are way more intelligent than we give them credit for. In fact, they also have some pretty amazing super human capabilities. They have an excellent sense of smell, and can detect certain odours from up to five miles away. They are also able to hear sound frequencies outside of what an average human can hear. Cows are also typically affectionate beings, and welcome human interactions.

Cow Facts

  • It’s a common misconception that cows have four stomachs; they actually just have one stomach with four chambers
  • Cows have around 33,000 genes, of which around 80% are the same as humans
  • A domesticated cow will only sleep for around four hours a day
  • A group of cows is called a herd, drove, or team
  • Cattle are partially color blind, so red and green appear gray or dark black to them

What Can We Take From This?

From their intelligence, to their affection, these are just a few of the many reasons that make cows such gentle, loving and incredible creatures.

Animal welfare expert, Daniel Weary, said that he would like this increased knowledge and awareness to translate to increased respect and more humane living conditions for these animals. And as thoughtful human beings, isn't that the least that we can do?


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