A recent trip to a local farm left me with the question “do cows have best friends”?
I never really gave thought to the emotional abilities of cows, but after seeing how 2 of the cows were interacting – I needed to know if they are able to form relationships and if they have “favorite” friends.
I wanted to learn if cows have best friends in the same way humans do!
I found that there was a study done on just this thing by Krista McLennan at Northampton University.
Do Cows Have Best Friends?
It was found that yes, cows do have best friends! It was also found that the cows become emotionally attached to their best friends, like humans do.
The study was done by pairing up cows for 30 minute intervals. They first pair would be 2 cows who did not know each other and the next pair would be “friends” that already knew each other. During each of these pairings their heart rates would be tracked at 15 second intervals.
The results showed that when the cow was paired with another cow they knew and had a relationship with, their heart rates and stress levels were significantly lower than when paired with an unknown cow.
What does this really mean for cows?
This research clearly shows that cows are social creatures and are very capable of forming close friendship bonds with other cows they spend time with.
Ms. McLennan provided this data  to farmers as well with the thinking that they can use the data to improve milk yields from their herds. If the farmers can take note of the cows that seem to spend more time together and allow them to be together more often it can greatly reduce their stress levels and improve the quantity of milk being produced.
While there are dairy farms that do a good job of caring for their cows, many are lacking in any kind of real care or compassion and only see cows as objects and not feeling creatures. My hope is that this kind of research can change that.
One of the biggest issues in the milk industry is the separation of offspring from cows at birth – which now we can see can truly be detrimental to the milk industry. Taking away a momma’s baby will only increase their stress level which in turn will result in less milk – which seems counter-productive!
Maybe – just maybe as a community we can make the change to limit or remove dairy from our diets as well as educate more people about the results of this study. We can make a difference for these beautiful creatures – if we do it together!
Other interesting cow facts!
In another study  it was found that cows were actually able to recognize cows they knew in photographs. This was proven by how they would run toward the photograph when they saw their “cow friend”.
It has been said that cows bond through licking, which is what I observed on my farm visit. The licking of the heads and necks of other cows is how they bond with each other.
 McLennan, K. M. (2013) Social bonds in dairy cattle: the effect of dynamic group systems on welfare and productivity. Doctoral thesis. The University of Northampton
 Individual Recognition in Domestic Cattle