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#DrTrippsTips, Cow Studies, Cow Activity 5 min read

Are cows emotionally intelligent? [Part 2]

Written by Dr. Scott Tripp

Most people outside of those who work closely with cows, probably don’t recognize the intelligence of cows—especially their complex relationships within a herd.


In my last article on this subject, I talked about the daily activities of cows that help with their physical well-being. Below are a few thoughts that help to frame the fact that cows are in fact… emotionally intelligent.

Does a cow know what day it is?

Knowing what day it is, might sound like a funny question… but the quick answer is yes!

The more appropriate answer is that a cow recognizes the season they are in by the length of daylight and darkness.

We know this because if we alter the sunlight for longer day length, they produce more milk. The opposite is true for dry cows. They do better in long hours of darkness.

It’s all about when it’s the best time to become pregnant, deliver, and nourish a calf.

Does a cow know her name or number?

When asked if a cow knows her own name, my own experiences tell me the answer is yes.

If housed in a non-threatening human environment, cows are naturally inquisitive—they will come up to you when called.

You must also understand that cows know each other. The current studies on social interactions indicate that cows do better if they have a playmate when they are calves… and keep that playmate throughout their life. They not only know each other, but they keep a hierarchy within the herd.

The rule of thumb is that cows remember about 100 names. If you add more cows into the group, they generally split into two different groups. Dominance is determined during the socialization period and you can see it as cows push on each other.

Do cows have personalities?

Do cows have personalities… Obsoletely!! The stories I could tell…

My favorite cow of all time was named Apple. She was a red Holstein that I raised from a calf.

She knew her name and would come when called. She loved playing with me and would constantly rub on me like a cat.

The biggest problem is that she was smart, and no matter what I did with a gate she would figure out a way to open it… I would always find her out running around. When I found her, she always had the look of, “what did I do wrong?”

While in the pen she was constantly playing with small calves. When they would run and jump, she would too… the sight of a 1600 lb. Holstein jumping up into the air still makes me laugh!


The social complexities and relationships within a herd, the individual personalities, and the need for a schedule, all point to the intelligence of these animals. Cows are truly amazing and extremely interesting beings.

The real question is how does that affect the management of your herd?

This post is part 2 of a 3 part article on cow activity.
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