Surprising facts about farm animals’ intelligence

Reduced to a mere number or barcode, farm animals around the world are counted in terms of kilograms of meat, number of eggs or liters of milk etc. This objectification and “commoditization” of farm animals over the decades seem to have made one important fact lost to us – these are “lives” and they are just as sentient and intelligent as our companion animals. 

Time and again, research has shown that farmed animals such as chickens, cows, sheep and pigs are intelligent creatures. Let us delve deeper into this and break some of our preconceived notions about farm animals to make us respect and treat them just like our companion animals.

  1. Pigs

As shown by the late Dr. Stanley Curtis, pigs are intelligent enough to play joystick controlled video games. According to his research, Hamlet the pig could use a joystick, which was designed for a chimp, to move a cursor on a monitor to a blue coloured area and get food as reward. A Jack Russell terrier dog was unable to do the same task even after a year of practising, which goes to show that pigs are actually smarter than dogs. Furthermore, research conducted at the University of Cambridge showed that pigs are amongst a special category of animals that can recognize themselves in a mirror – something which even dogs and cats cannot, and also understand how mirrors work as they rely on reflections to find food. 

  1. Cows

Cows are known to have great memory and can easily recognize and remember faces for long durations. They also remember directions to their usual grazing spots and watering holes. Furthermore, cows interact in a complex social hierarchy within the herd. They obey a “boss”, isolate cows that do not behave accordingly, and make strong friendships with other cows by “hanging out” with them. Moreover, cows have advanced cognition, understand cause and effect and enjoy problem solving as they can learn to push a lever or a button with their head to release drinking water or grains when they are thirsty or hungry. 

  1. Chickens

Unlike the term ‘bird-brained’, chickens can easily learn to solve puzzles and games similar to pigs. Research has shown that chickens can be taught to control the thermostat in a coop. They are also affectionate mothers who communicate with and take care of their unhatched babies and show empathy for and defend their chicks after hatching. Furthermore, hens teach their chicks what food to eat or avoid and make them understand social hierarchy. Even at the age of 2 days, baby chicks are known to understand the existence of objects even if they cannot perceive the object.

  1. Sheep and Goats

Sheep are stereotyped to denote herd mentality. However, we must note that they are extremely intelligent as they can easily recognize faces and missing sheep among their herd. They even recognize their caretakers and sheepdogs. Research has revealed that a sheep recognized 50 out of 50 human faces correctly on a monitor, and another study showed that sheep can remember more than 50 different faces for over 2 years.

Similar to sheep, goats are great at solving problems as per researchers worldwide. A study involved solving a puzzle where goats pulled a rope using their teeth to activate a lever to obtain food from a box. Goats often use these skills to reach food that other animals cannot obtain. 

These facts only go to show how incredible and intelligent these creatures are. They clearly understand, feel and know more than we attribute them to do. Acknowledging this will only make it easier for us to stop supporting their commercial exploitation by the meat and dairy industry. You can begin respecting them by switching to a plant-based and cruelty-free way of living. 

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