Study says cow's eyes reveal how they are feeling

11/06/2015

We are learning how cows can communicate their emotions; building knowledge that can help revolutionise the treatment of farm animals.

As animal lovers, we know the importance of animals feeling secure and happy, none more so than the billions of farm animals across the world.  The problem is animals cannot tell us what they are feeling, but our research has revealed that cows can express their emotions through their ears, eyes and noses.

Over three months, we studied how cows responded to being stroked. Stroking cows has been shown to calm them down, lower their heart rate and reduce stress. We now know that when cows are in this calmer state they can show us, particularly through their ears.

Our research revealed when cows are relaxed their ears take on a different posture, to when they are more alert or not as happy.

As for their eyes, we found that when the cows were relaxed, the whites of their eyes would decrease. They would then slowly increase again once we stopped stroking them. The temperature of the cows' noses also decreased during the stroking experience.

This ground breaking study, we hope will help farmers build greater understanding to offer their animals better welfare and protection, while also helping farm inspectors to assess the well-being of farm animals – ultimately helping to improve the lives of cows.

There is still a lot of work to do, but this research shows that animals can communicate in many different ways, we just need to learn how - so together we can help animals live a better quality of life. 

Read the study in Physiology & Behavior journal.