Cows Get Stressed Without Their Friends

Cows have friends and even best friends, says Krista McLennan, who is working on a a Ph.D. at Northampton University in the U.K.. Indeed, McLennan discovered that being among friends helps to lower cows’ stress and could help them produce more milk — and point to ways to raise cows in more humane circumstances.

Cows even have best friends who they prefer to be around. But too often they’re not “BFFs” (best friends forever) due to the cows being separated, temporarily (for visits to veterinarians or by farmers moving their animals around) or permanently.

McLennan measured the levels of cortisol of the cows and also recorded their heart rates in cows who were (1) penned on their own, (2) with a cow who was their best friend or (3) with another cow they were not acquainted with for 30 minute periods. She took their heart rates at 15-second intervals and found out that cows are indeed “very social animals” who have “close bonds” with other cows.

As McLennan explains to the Daily Mail:

“When heifers have their preferred partner with them, their stress levels in terms of their heart rates are reduced compared with if they were with a random individual…If we can encourage farmers to keep an eye out for those cows which like to keep their friends with them, it could have some real benefits, such as improving their milk yields and reducing stress for the animals, which is very important for their welfare.”

Indeed, in the course of her research, McLennan says that many farmers have told her they noticed “bonds building among their cows and some spending a lot of time together.”

But modern farming “management” practices too often mean that cows must be separated from those they have such bonds with. McLennan also says  that “re-grouping” cows causes them lots of stress as they have to transition into a new group — just as it’s not easy for many of us humans to become part of a new group, be it a new class at school or a new job.

Trevor Foss, the chairman of the Northamptonshire branch of the National Farmers Union, indeed told the Daily Mail that McLennan’s findings could be of “real use” to dairy farmers: “I suppose cows must be a bit like humans…Some might like to be on their own while others might not.”

Foss also observed that some cows like to have the radio on — other farmers have noted the “Moozart” effect, of cows being calmed and producing more milk when they hear classical music.

Along with efforts underway to ban tail docking in Colorado, McLennan’s research suggests we can more humanely care for animals, with benefits for all. Why not give these a try? Wouldn’t you want to be with your friends and, most of all, your best friend?

Related Care2 Coverage

Veal Calves Too Weak to Stand Will Not be Slaughtered, Announces USDA

Cruelly Removing Cows’ Horns is Standard Practice on Most Dairy Farms

Should We Ban Horse Slaughter Once and For All?

What’s with all the cow content? One wily Care2 member, Bessie the Holstein, decided cows were underrepresented and started a petition. She officially staged a successful takeover of our offices, and has redubbed us “CareMoo.”

Photo from Thinkstock


Elisa F.
Elisa F5 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing :)

Michael H.
Mike H5 years ago

I honor their friendship by not eating them.

Helga Balague
Helga Balagué5 years ago

life is better with friends!!

Frances Darcy
Frances Darcy6 years ago

We all need friends. Great article

Ken Y.
Ken Y6 years ago

really not inhumane and protects them from their cell mates

Waheeda S.
Waheeda S6 years ago

Awww see ... this is what people have to remember the next time they order steak. :(

TERRY R6 years ago


Mark Donners
Mark Donner6 years ago

Anyone who eats veal or lamb is guilty as sin of the most horrendous crimes.

Marcia Shiel
M s6 years ago

farmers remove calves from their mothers The calves cry for their mothers,are put in a tiny isolation pen ;they go to slaughter so ignorant selfish humans can "pig out" . the mother grieves for her baby Man doesn't care.....