Cows and calves

Facts to help you treat farm animals compassionately

Four facts about farm animals that will help you learn how these animals function, and how to treat them.


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Farm animals are hugely diverse animals and deserve to be better admired. Understanding how animal senses compare to your own helps to appreciate different farm animal characteristics, learn how these animals function, and how to treat them. 

Do cows have besties? 

Calf cows showing tenderness

They do! Cows have besties and contact with these friends help them to lower their heart rates and cortisol. Researcher Krista McLennan and her team of scientists at University of Northampton in England found that cows are healthier when they are paired up with a preferred partner and not a random cow. Mclennan also found that cow friends can become stressed when they are separated from each other. She encouraged farmers to be on the lookout for those cows who like to group together and help them to keep their friends in their immediate vicinity.  

How many letters in the chicken alphabet? 

Free range chickens

Far from what you might think - chicken noises are a way of communicating - one cluck at a time. Decoding chicken talk has been a theme in research on the feathered farm animals since it was conducted 40 years ago by Nichols E Collias. Since then, researchers have discovered more than 24 chicken sounds and gave meaning to those in context of what the birds are doing. Much more recent research at Macquarie University in Australia link this to the chickens’ cognitive abilities. Understanding the sounds can lead to better treatment. 

Even though clucking away means much to chickens, waking up in the morning to a rooster crowing is not the sweetest of music to all ears, especially in urban areas. A barking dog and a rooster crowing both roughly make around 90 decibels of noise which is comparable to a window air conditioner or a power lawn mower. Laying hens produce around 60 to 70 decibels while on their eggs. This is the same as a loud human conversation! 

Sheep 101: How well can sheep see? 

Sheep and baby

Sheep have unique vision. Their eyes are positioned to give a wide field of vision of 290 degrees with a small movement of the head. Researchers of the University of Cambridge showed in 1998 even with this vision, there are certain areas that a sheep will not be able to see. These blind spots are directly in front of them and directly behind them. They can however just turn their heads slightly to be able to see in those blind spots. This should be kept in mind when you are around them so that they do not catch a fright.  

Sheep also have less cones in their retinas than humans. This means they can probably see a limited range of colour which include probably colours like red, green, yellow, brown, black, and white. 

What can a horse’s ears tell you? 

Wild horses in the fields

Horses can hear in all directions without turning their heads, the reason being they can rotate each ear for 180 degrees. Their hearing range is 33.5 to 55 Hertz according to research by equine behaviour expert and author Paul McGreevy in 2004. Human beings can hear sounds from 20 Hertz onwards. This means horses can hear high-pitched sounds that humans are unable to hear. Humans however can hear some low-pitched sounds that horses cannot hear.  

Horses are also sensitive to the tone of voice of a person. A Canadian researcher, Katrina Markies from the University of Guelph, found that if a human uses a pleasant tone with a horse, the animal will position his body towards the human. She also found horses maintained the lowest head position when no human or sound was present, but all elevated their heads in the presence of a human or sound. 

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