Kind words relax the cow – farmers could benefit
Farmers who talk to Berta and Co. are doing it right: cows respond clearly to friendly words and pats, as a study shows. The emotional life of farm animals could be an underestimated factor.
The relationship between man and cow is usually not shaped by many words. But cattle do well if they are well received, as scientists from Vienna write in the journal “Frontiers in Psychology”.
They were able to show that cows relax when they are petted and hear a soft voice. They stretch their necks longer with pleasure, twitch their ears less, and then their hearts beat slower. The effect was clearer when the voice came directly from the person next to you instead of from a loudspeaker on the researcher’s body.
That the cows notice this difference is important for further research into how humans can induce well-being in them. The cow’s emotional world is not only interesting for animal lovers or psychologists. “We know that handling also has an effect on the milk yield and the health of the animals,” said Annika Lange from the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna, of the German Press Agency. “Farmers may be smiled at when they talk to their cows, but it actually has an effect.”
The 28 four-legged participants in the study live on the university’s livestock farm. Lange and her team got them used to a strap with a heart monitor and pats while they were lying down, before they repeated or played praising messages to each cattle – drawn out words like “good” or “fine” that remind of the calming deep mooing of cows at their calves should.
“Animal welfare research is no longer just about how we avoid stress and fear, but how we can improve the quality of life and perhaps enable animals to have a better life,” said Lange. However, measuring happiness is more difficult than stress.
Certain patterns in the heart rate provided the researchers with indications that the parasympathetic nervous system responsible for relaxation was activated. The body language is also meaningful: relaxed cattle close their eyes with relish and stretch their necks – for example when a conspecific has found a particularly pleasant spot while grooming each other.
A study that examines the effects of being spoken to without touching is still in progress. “Stroking is probably a little more important for well-being than the auditory stimulus,” suspects Lange. “Many people find a massage more intensive than a calming audio book.”
In many large farms, however, farm animals are probably rather foreign to cuddles and kind words. An as yet unpublished study in a larger farm in Germany showed similar results, said Lange: Stroking and gentle talking help cows to lose their fear of people. “Research shows that it definitely makes a difference for the animals how you treat them.”
In large companies too, employees could be encouraged to be relaxed and friendly with the animals instead of doing everything as quickly as possible, said Lange. “Of course it is unrealistic for every farmer to talk to her and stroke her for five minutes a day per cow. But it would be important to appreciate that positive interaction and a good relationship between humans and cows have such effects. ”