Cows are extremely social creatures, and have the capacity for complex emotions including loneliness, stress, and boredom.
Cows absolutely get lonely, bored, and stressed if they are separated from their herd or don’t have adequate enrichment to keep them occupied during the day.
In this article, we’re going to look at cows’ social structures and capacity for emotions, and find out why and how cows get lonely and bored, and what they do to have fun.
Do Cows Get Lonely?
Cows are highly social and emotional creatures capable of complex emotions, including loneliness. (They can even cry when they are sad!)
Researchers at Northampton University in the UK found that cows showed increased heart rates and had an increased level of cortisol (stress hormones) when they were separated from their herd.
Interestingly, the same research also showed that cows’ heart rates returned to normal when they were with their “preferred partner”.
This shows us that cows can form friendships with other animals, and that they can experience stress and loneliness when separated from their herd.
Do Cows Get Lonely By Themselves?
Yes, cows get lonely when they are by themselves. Cows are social herd animals, which means they have evolved over thousands of years to work cooperatively with their herd. Socialization is crucial to maintaining cows’ well-being.
One area where we have learned that cows like to socialize is in dairy farming. Every possible variable has been thoroughly tested in dairy farming, because the results directly affect the farmers’ bottom lines.
Research has shown us that levels of stress directly affect dairy production in cows, and dairy cows become stressed when separated from the rest of their herd.
Dairy farmers ensure cows can see and communicate with each other during milking. Cows are pampered with fresh food and water, clean straw on the ground, air conditioning, and plenty of friends to socialize with during milking to ensure they are as happy as possible.
Read More: Do Cows Like Being Milked?
Can Cows Live Alone?
Many micro-dairies and other low-impact farms and smallholdings have only a few cows, either due to space or cost, but is it fair for cows to force them to live alone?
Cows really shouldn’t live alone. They are highly social animals who thrive in a herd with their friends and relatives. Cows become lonely, agitated, and stressed when forced to live by themselves.
How Do We Know Cows Get Lonely?
Researchers have shown that cows experience stress and anxiety when separated from their herd.
Like elephants, horses, and other herd animals, cows have evolved to live in harmony with their herd. Socialization is a key aspect of cows’ behavior and is crucial to their mental wellbeing.
How To Stop Cows Getting Lonely
The best way to stop cows getting lonely is by keeping them with their herd. If having two cows isn’t possible, cows can form strong bonds with humans, goats, pigs, and other animals.
In situations where it’s not possible for a cow to live with their herd (for example in a microdairy, a croft, or a smallholding), cows can also form strong bonds with humans and other animals including goats, dogs, and pigs which satisfies their need for socialization.
Read More: Can Cows Bond with Humans?
Do Cows Get Bored?
Yes, cows become bored, agitated and distressed when deprived of stimulation just like humans do.
Luckily, cows alleviate their boredom by playing with their friends, foraging for food, exploring new pastures, eating, and socializing with their herd or with other animals.
According to Open Sanctuary, cows should be provided with social, nutritional, cognitive, sensory, and physical enrichment to keep them happy and healthy.
What Do Cows Do All Day?
Cows spend the majority of their day ruminating (chewing and digesting their food).
According to the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, cows spend only 4 hours per day sleeping, but spend up to a third of their day ruminating, and they prefer to ruminate while lying down.
Cows spend up to 16 hours a day lying down, even though they only sleep for a few hours.
When cows are not ruminating or sleeping, they spend their time foraging and socializing with the herd.
How Do Cows Stop Themselves Getting Bored:
Stimulating activities for cows include socializing with their herd, exploring new foraging ground, and exploring things like tree trunks and cow brushes, which they use to scratch and groom themselves.
Cows also engage in play, both with each other and by themselves. Cows even play with specially designed cow toys!
Read More: What do Cows do for Fun?
Do Cows Play With Each Other?
Cows play with each other by play-fighting, rubbing their heads together, frolicking and chasing each other around, and even playing in a group with cow toys including cattle brushes and balls.
Cows play for fun, but it’s also an important part of their socialization as calves and is necessary for their development. Playing teaches cows what is dangerous and what isn’t, and establishes a social bond with the rest of the herd.
Cows are social herd creatures who need to socialize to stay healthy. When separated from their herd and isolated, cows become bored, lonely, and stressed.
Research has demonstrated that cows who are isolated from their herd experience a rise in the stress hormone cortisol and an increased heart rate. The same research shows cows have a preferred partner (a friend) who calms them down quicker than an unknown cow.
To stave off boredom, cows play together and explore their environment as they forage.
Stuart is the editor of Fauna Facts. He edits our writers’ work as well as contributing his own content. Stuart is passionate about sustainable farming and animal welfare and has written extensively on cows and geese for the site.