7 Fascinating Things You Never Knew About Cows

Editor’s note: This post is a Care2 favorite, back by popular demand. It was originally posted on May 27, 2014. Enjoy!

Cows are incredibly intelligent, thoughtful and sensitive animals who are among the gentle giants of the world. Despite weighing in excess of 1,400 lbs, they have no instinct to harm and can be a wonderful companion to those lucky enough to spend time in their presence.

Despite this, the vast majority of cows spend their lives confined to dreadful conditions on factory farms where they are subjected to all manner of cruel and inhumane practices so that we can exploit their bodies for milk and meat. When confined to the stalls of a large dairy or beef farm, they are unable to exhibit their natural behaviors, and this leads to a widespread misunderstanding of their true nature.

If you’ve never taken the time to consider the complex emotional capabilities of these sentient animals before, here are seven fascinating things you never knew about cows. If you don’t believe them to be true, contact your local farm animal sanctuary and arrange to meet one in person!

1. Leap For Joy

Image credit: Farm Sanctuary | Connie Pugh

When cows are happy, they run around and leap into the air with excitement. There are some amazing photographs and videos of cows doing this when they are released into fresh green pasture after being kept inside for a period of time. Samuel the cow from Sanctuary Gaia did just this after he had been let into the field for the first time after an operation.

2. Get Excited When They Solve Problems

Image credit: Woodstock Animal Sanctuary

Cows are critical thinkers and they are able to solve complex problems. Researchers studying their problem solving capabilities noticed a distinctive spike in their heartbeat when they were successful in overcoming challenges. They are not so different from you or I in this respect.

3. Live for up to 20 Years

Image credit: Farm Sanctuary

Despite the fact that cows in the meat and dairy industry often don’t live over 5 years old, their natural lifespan is in excess of four times this. When cow’s bodies are intensively used by the dairy industry, their bodies cannot cope with the demands placed on them, and their vital organs begin to deteriorate after a very short amount of time. When milk production slows, they are sent to slaughter, while they are still effectively not even adults.

4. Remember Faces for Long Periods of Time

Image credit: Farm Sanctuary

Cows have amazing memories, and due to their social nature they are extremely good at remembering and recognizing faces. There have been many instances of cows running over to greet visitors at sanctuaries who have not seen them for six months or longer, yet the cow still recognizes them and comes over for a cuddle.

5. Nurse Their Calves for up to 3 Years

Image credit: El Hogar Pro Vegan

When given the chance, cows have been known to nurse their calves for as long as three years. They have extremely strong maternal bonds and are excellent parents to their young, with different herd members performing nurturing roles if required.

6. Grieve for their Loved Ones

Image credit: El Hogar Pro Vegan

It is common for cows to show very obvious signs of grief when a loved one is taken away from them. When a calf is taken away from its mother, she will scream and cry for many hours, and will not display her usual behaviors for a long time after that. They have even been known to walk for miles on end looking for their calves, all the time displaying visible signs of stress, anger and distress.

7. Love Cuddles and Affection

Image credit: Sanctuary Gaia

Anyone who has visited a farm animal sanctuary will tell you that cows are extremely affectionate and loving creatures. Cows who have been mistreated and abused in the past can take some time (as with all animals) to heal and learn to trust humans once more, but they do have an amazing capacity for forgiveness and understanding of the intentions of new people they meet. Cows love to lay in the sunshine and have strokes and rubs, and will happily follow around people they know are going to give them attention.

Top Photo Credit: Sanctuary Gaia


Roopak Vaidya
Roopak Vaidyaabout a year ago

Nice. Thanks for re-posting.

Muriel Servaege
Muriel Servaegeabout a year ago

Thank you for this very interesting article. We discover every day that animals are much more intelligent than we thought. Samuel the calf is absolutely adorable. What about his mum and her grief?

Linda Hirst
Linda Hirst1 years ago

My daughter in law is vegetarian for humane reasons. She had never thought about the dairy industry, aren't they "happy cows"? How do people not realize that the industry's core practice is ripping newborns from their mothers, with calves slaughtered as byproducts or confined to brutal conditions for veal? There's an ad on TV right now for a farmers' dating site. One picture shows a smiling young woman with a newborn calf in her arms. Looks like a Holstein, and I'll bet she's taking it away from it's mom. Such a happy, cute picture, but somewhere, a bereft cow is searching for her calf...

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill1 years ago

Very interesting!

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus1 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Christopher P.
Christopher P1 years ago


Sara G.
Sara G1 years ago

We always had a few cows when I was a girl. I can tell you from personal experience, this article is true in all respects. As to how smart they are, we had a cow that learned how to work the pump handle with her nose to get a drink of water.

Mariana O.
Mariana O1 years ago

I've always loved cows. Didn't know they are slaughtered when milk is not enough to bring profit. I hate that.

Jim Ven
Jim Ven1 years ago

thanks for the interesting article.

Karen N.
Karen N1 years ago

"Is being vegan a matter of "choice"? . . . Only in so far as we are able to choose to ignore our moral obligations not to exploit the vulnerable." . . . Prof Gary Francione