Have Complex Emotions

Cows are sensitive, intelligent, and social individuals with unique personalities. They have a variety of complex emotions, and are shown to demonstrate emotional contagion, a sign of empathy. Emotional contagion is when one cow experiences the same emotion of another after seeing the other cow experiencing distress, enjoyment, or another emotion. Cows also show an emotional reaction to learning. They can feel happiness or satisfaction after learning, which may indicate that they have a sense of self-agency.¹

Cows form complex social groups, and have even been shown to be capable of social learning.¹ They can form bonds with humans and enjoy affection and playing together.

Sadly, around 300 million cows are killed every year for food.²

The Facts
About Cows Used for Their Flesh

The average cow raised for beef will start their life on an open range land. There, cows are sometimes branded with hot irons or have ear tags pierced through their ears to show ownership, both of which can be quite painful.3 Male cows will also have their testicles cut off without the use of anesthesia.3

After they are about a year old, the cows are brought to a feedlot or stockyard where they are crowded together with no access to grazing.3 They are fed diets made up mostly of corn to fatten them up as quickly as possible. Often times, the overcrowding and poor feed can cause infections and other health issues. As a result, antibiotics and growth-promoting hormones are given to the cows via injection to keep them healthy.3

Cows that are able to walk are rounded up onto trucks for transport to slaughter houses at around 30 to 42 months of age.4 Cows that are unable to stand are considered “downed” and are euthanized.3 In transport, many cows do not make it due to the long trips that may even be hundreds or thousands of miles.5 For the cows that do make it to the slaughterhouse, they are supposed to be rendered unconscious by a bolt gun to their head. However, the bolt guns are not very accurate and often, many cows are still conscious when they are hung upside down by their back legs.5 Once they are hung up, the cow’s throat is slit and they bleed to death. The average slaughterhouse can kill up to 400 cows per hour.5

The Facts
About Cows Used for Dairy

In order to produce milk, female cows have to be pregnant. Because of this, the cows are continually artificially inseminated even while they are still lactating from the previous pregnancy.5 The constant milk production and birthing puts a great strain on a cow’s body.5

After the cow gives birth, her calf is often immediately taken from her so they will not drink her milk. If the calf is a female, she will be raised to replace her mother as a dairy cow. If the calf is a male, he will be sent to a veal farm, where he will be kept in a severely confined crate and fed a deficient diet until he is slaughtered at 16 to 18 weeks old.5

Most dairy cows are kept in indoor facilities where they get food and water. They are milked using machines that are hooked up to their udders.3 Often times, their tails are docked without anesthesia for easier access to their udders. Many dairy cows do not even get to go outside to graze.3

After three to four years of constant milk production, dairy cows are typically sent to slaughter.5 Their milk production starts to slow and they are no longer efficient enough for the industry. For perspective, cows have an average lifespan of 15-20 years.6



Interested in learning more?

Learn about other animals that are exploited for food. 

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