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OH GOD GRASS YES
March 25, 2012 3:47 PM   Subscribe

Cows being released from winter housing react to being let free in a meadow
posted by The Whelk (169 comments total) 84 users marked this as a favorite

 
I don't think I've ever before seen a cow cavort.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:49 PM on March 25, 2012 [23 favorites]


Fun. However, I was expecting a weirder reaction.
posted by aubilenon at 3:54 PM on March 25, 2012 [20 favorites]


I love this. The ecstasy of dancing cows.

(Bitten from Simon Jeffes)
posted by nickrussell at 3:57 PM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was expecting a weirder reaction.

*stares*

When did Terry Gilliam start making Youtube videos?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:57 PM on March 25, 2012


Great music for eating a hamburger to! Mmmmmm!!
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:00 PM on March 25, 2012 [5 favorites]


How do you scratch an itch on your ear when your appendages do not reach?
posted by kanemano at 4:01 PM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't think I've ever before seen a cow cavort.

Agreed! Having never seen a dairy cow do much other than look varying degrees of grumpy, I was shocked to discover they were able to frolic.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 4:01 PM on March 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


Cows are more fun than you ever thought!
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 4:03 PM on March 25, 2012


I was born and raised in Wisconsin. I spent a lot of time at my dad's friend's dairy farm as a kid.
To estimate that I've seen 1,000 dairy cows standing around in fields throughout my life would probably be conservative.

I have never, ever seen a cow do that thing where they rub their heads on the ground before this video. Looks like a cat with a fresh satchel of catnip.
posted by yomimono at 4:05 PM on March 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


They get down to business pretty fast, though.
posted by thelonius at 4:05 PM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


moo-hoo!
posted by changeling at 4:07 PM on March 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


It's like Cows Gone Wild: Spring Break!
posted by chavenet at 4:08 PM on March 25, 2012 [7 favorites]


I don't think I've ever before seen a cow cavort.

I have seen calves cavort. Cows cowvort.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 4:11 PM on March 25, 2012 [38 favorites]


I'm wondering if the cows were in a tie stall barn and not allowed to properly groom themselves? They are a bit dirty, so that would seem to point to a lack of brushes.

If you release cows into a new pasture (at anytime of year) they exhibit most of these behaviours. They also determine where the fence permitter is pretty quickly by doing a lap. 2 year old dairy cows (teenagers) act more rambunctious than the older animals.
posted by sety at 4:12 PM on March 25, 2012 [8 favorites]


Now those are some ass-jittering cattle.
posted by flod at 4:15 PM on March 25, 2012 [16 favorites]


I'm glad someone linked to the cyriak video. Because I came here just to do that.
posted by hippybear at 4:17 PM on March 25, 2012


My dog behaves similarly after he gets a bath.
posted by jeffamaphone at 4:17 PM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


That made me want to give up meat more than any PETA video ever has.
posted by The Hamms Bear at 4:17 PM on March 25, 2012 [80 favorites]


A dark part of me wonders what this video would be like if they played it with ominous horns and violins and the title said these cattle were a group inoculated with mad cow prions.
posted by mccarty.tim at 4:18 PM on March 25, 2012 [28 favorites]


sorry
posted by mccarty.tim at 4:18 PM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


The sensual pagan ovine rituals
posted by The Whelk at 4:19 PM on March 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Three months later all of those cows were turned into yummy hamburgers.
posted by Justinian at 4:19 PM on March 25, 2012


I do like the two cows who are butting heads together. It's like the cow equivalent of a high five.

"I told you we'd get let out again!"

"Yeah dude, you were right!"
posted by hippybear at 4:20 PM on March 25, 2012 [14 favorites]


I have never, ever seen a cow do that thing where they rub their heads on the ground before this video. Looks like a cat with a fresh satchel of catnip.

Yeah, I really liked the video but it got me wondering. I don't hang around cows a lot, but I'm not a complete stranger to cow environments. I've seen them do a lot of behaviors and I think there effect of editing here is pretty big. But I wondered about the source of the behaviors. Is it really "joy at being set free from indoor housing?" Probably in part. But I also wondered:

-for the cows rubbing their ears and cheeks on the ground and on fence posts: could they have ear mites? Do their ears itch?

- for the cavorting cows - how much of this is mating time hormones?

As a big Slow Food person, I definitely believe cows should be on pasture, so I'm not challenging the overarching message of "allow cows outside." I just wasn't sure if we were getting a fully informed framework here.

Any cattle behaviorists in the house?
posted by Miko at 4:21 PM on March 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


The gamboling bovines are quite cute. I feel very guilty for having carne asada just a few minutes ago for lunch.

Like aubilenon, I was reminded of some superpostmodern surreal bovine action courtesy Cyriak.
posted by mistersquid at 4:22 PM on March 25, 2012


Sety's right. The cows who scratching themselves in the grass are probably missing this.
posted by elgilito at 4:23 PM on March 25, 2012 [14 favorites]


Rubbing the jaw or cheeks on a fence means best check for ringworm, as I recall.
posted by Abiezer at 4:23 PM on March 25, 2012


Over on the far side a bovinade breaks out, inspiring a whole pasturised cowtural moovement...four-step, UK hustle, cud stop, and the new southern swing...stomp the meadow forever!
posted by iamkimiam at 4:24 PM on March 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Aw. That last one must have been eating grass because he had a tummy ache. Poor guy.
posted by sourwookie at 4:24 PM on March 25, 2012


Calves cavorting (good stuff starts around a minute in).
posted by salvia at 4:29 PM on March 25, 2012


I am surrounded on 3 sides by cows. They do cavort but mostly the youngsters. the mamas eyeball the hellout of you. The calves play "I dare you" games with my dog when he is fenced. it is hilarious. When my dog escapes the yard and goes into the cow zone they quickly form into a triangle pod and move according to my dogs position. When I first moved here and my dog got loose and was harassing the cows I called the farmer and said that I was worried about the cows they just laughed and said that my dog should be worried about being kicked in the head. Gulp.

triangle cow pod=Southpark. It is real. Trust me.
posted by futz at 4:29 PM on March 25, 2012 [7 favorites]


Sourwookie, is my sarcasm meter broken? Must be.
posted by futz at 4:32 PM on March 25, 2012


Having grown up on a small farm, I have seen cows, bulls, heifers, steers and calves cavorting in fields in this manner. I call it bovorting.
posted by DaddyNewt at 4:33 PM on March 25, 2012 [12 favorites]


When I was 7 or 8 my grandmother visited from Arizona. She says, "Look! Sheep!" This was Iowa.

I am pretty sure my expression was about the same then as it was watching this.

I see real cows doing this sort of thing all the time. Was still cute though.
posted by cjorgensen at 4:35 PM on March 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Futz, 'twas indeed feigned ignorance.
posted by sourwookie at 4:37 PM on March 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Miko: Any cattle behaviorists in the house?

I'm no cattle behaviorist but I did spend half a summer herding cows back in my early teens. This is what I recall. When cows are full of mating time hormones they will mount each other (I can't remember who is full of hormones, the mounter or the mountee). Cavorting is rare, except when they've been cooped up inside for long for some reason. Rubbing up against things was common, and unless excessive wasn't really a sign of anything.

I was on a dairy farm in Iceland, and the cows there were fairly intelligent. I didn't so much herd them as sort of keep an eye on them as they went from pasture to pasture. They knew their routine better than I did. After only a few days I started to get a feel for their different personalities. That experience was definitely a factor in me later deciding to stop eating meat.
posted by Kattullus at 4:39 PM on March 25, 2012 [14 favorites]


When I was 7 or 8 my grandmother visited from Arizona. She says, "Look! Sheep!" This was Iowa.

To this day whenever I drive by real cows or a billboard with cows on it, Danny Devito from Throw Mama From The Train says "Look! Cows!" in my brain.
posted by hippybear at 4:40 PM on March 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


Sourwookie...whew!
posted by futz at 4:43 PM on March 25, 2012


I've seen cows bound exactly like this on the family farm in Finland. Just think that last year they couldn't be released until late May. There were a lot of broken fences that needed to repaired that day...
posted by myopicman at 4:44 PM on March 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


- for the cavorting cows - how much of this is mating time hormones?

Well, I'm not an expert, but grew up on a farm, and didn't regularly drink milk from a bottle until I was >13. Yeah, cows cavort, some more than others. It's a reasonably, though not heaps, common expression of pleasure and fun. Nothing to do with being in season, 99% of the time.
posted by smoke at 4:48 PM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Hamms Bear> That made me want to give up meat more than any PETA video ever has.

...or at least made me wish we can get lab-grown meat as soon as possible.
posted by egor83 at 4:50 PM on March 25, 2012


Does happy make them taste better?
posted by Flood at 4:50 PM on March 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


hey everyone hamburgers i like hamburgers! hamburgers right? hamburgers! they turn cows into hamburgers and i'm awesome for liking hamburgers!
posted by nathancaswell at 4:53 PM on March 25, 2012 [14 favorites]


It's a total bummer that we are so conditioned to think Cow = Food that it's worthy of a metafilter post to see cows behaving like, you know, animals.
posted by something something at 5:02 PM on March 25, 2012 [6 favorites]


I spent some time on a dairy farm. Occasionally we would go walk the paddocks to check out the herd and the land. The cows would follow us all over the place. The would get as close as they dared, sometimes just three feet behind us. I would hear a snort, turn around and the cow would stop with a kind of a, what? I'm not following you, just standing here minding my own business surprised air about them. If they could have whistled and inspected their fingernails I think they would have. It was adorable.
posted by Belle O'Cosity at 5:03 PM on March 25, 2012 [34 favorites]


Oh but I do love this.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 5:08 PM on March 25, 2012


OK, we'll meet the meat.
posted by charlie don't surf at 5:10 PM on March 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Our family home is on a common (medieval survival of unfenced rough pasture with grazing rights for the local peasantry). As teenagers, we'd stagger back home up the hill after the traditional bout of underage drinking and sometimes stop to view the stars by resting with our backs against one of the cows, having a well-earned lie-down after a hard day's grazing. If you were gentle and steady about it, they never seemed to take it amiss and it was a pleasantly companionable experience.
posted by Abiezer at 5:10 PM on March 25, 2012 [24 favorites]


It's a total bummer that we are so conditioned to think Cow = Food that it's worthy of a metafilter post to see cows behaving like, you know, animals.

I mean in general I do think there should be less disconnect between the concept of living, feeling animal and MEAT... but Metafilter gets posts pretty consistently with videos of [animal] being [animal].
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 5:16 PM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


The cavorting totally reminded me of stretching out kinks and stiff muscles at recess or after school after sitting at a desk all day.

Even if happy animals don't taste any better, I'd rather my food have had happiness in their lives.
posted by porpoise at 5:17 PM on March 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


That made me want to give up meat more than any PETA video ever has.


FWIW those are dairy cows.
posted by Rumple at 5:18 PM on March 25, 2012 [13 favorites]


Three months later all of those cows were turned into yummy hamburgers.

Unlikely, as they are Holstein cows, and therefore likely dairy cows. Some of them might be turned into hamburger this year, but most will live a couple of years more.

My cousin keeps his heifer in an outdoors barn (with walls and a roof to protect them from the wind, and boy, their hair gets thick. They get this super cute "head of hair" at the top of their head.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 5:19 PM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Elsie would be so proud: she's taught her children well.
posted by cenoxo at 5:22 PM on March 25, 2012


Modern dairy farm featuring with laser-guided milking robots. Also: poopbot.
posted by loquacious at 5:23 PM on March 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


Flood: "Does happy make them taste better?"

As a general rule, yes. Happy critters are healthy critters expressing their natural behaviors so you end up with a better quality of meat/dairy. Compare a cheap egg from the grocery store to one from a pastured bird (in the spring especially) and you'll see and taste a very clear difference. Some exceptions to this rule are that grass-finished beef cattle can be fishy tasting *if* the pH of the pasture they're on is too low.

A second exception is people whose tastes prefer milder flavors. There are people in this world who don't like dark meat on poultry. They'll be less happy with the flavor of a happy bird. Likewise, there are people who prefer typical pork ("The other white meat!") to the much fattier, much redder, and much more strongly flavored meat from a happier, pastured animal.

Regarding dairy, what to you think happens to the 50% of calves that will never produce milk? Cattle aren't monogamous so there's no need for a 1:1 adult male/adult female ratio. The overwhelming majority of the boys go to slaughter.
posted by stet at 5:25 PM on March 25, 2012 [9 favorites]


Holy anthropomorphizing, Batman! I see animals exploring a changed environment, but that makes them "happy"? Category mistake alert.
posted by notme at 5:28 PM on March 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


So you think that animals can't feel happiness?
posted by futz at 5:33 PM on March 25, 2012 [7 favorites]


Their grazeful spirit cannot be cowed. They frolic in an udderly adorable, and dairy I say, mooving, manner.
posted by lazaruslong at 5:35 PM on March 25, 2012 [26 favorites]


I will ruminant over your comment lazaruslong.
posted by futz at 5:43 PM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Their grazeful spirit cannot be cowed. They frolic in an udderly adorable, and dairy I say, mooving, manner.

That was bovine.
posted by hal9k at 5:52 PM on March 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


no wonder why british cheeses taste so good!
posted by lester's sock puppet at 5:53 PM on March 25, 2012


Rubbing the jaw or cheeks on a fence means best check for ringworm, as I recall.

These are Holsteins. You're probably thinking of Jersey sores.
posted by hal9k at 5:55 PM on March 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


Any cattle behaviorists in the house?

Amateur here: we have raised around 26 cattle in the last four years from an original group of 7 young heifers. We have a lot of land with natural things like rocks, trees and streams. We practice low stress cattle management.

Cavorting is not uncommon in our cows. They will often buck and twist, even older cows if something has given them bovine joy, like access to a lush paddock, a huge bale of hay etc. Head butting is also common, especially amongst the same age cohort - ie: yearlings with yearlings, cows with cows, etc. I have a thing going with one of our 3yr olds, Violet. I bunch my fist, knuckles out, and she butts and scratches her head on it. I've only seen our bull Alfred head scratch on the ground once (yesterday in fact) but head scratching on rocks, tree stumps, fence posts is frequent. Cattle love a good scratch. Some of our trees have black bark from fire damage and occasionally (white) Alfred turns up looking he's trying to masquerade as a zebra.

As part of our low stress management regime, we don't wean our youngsters and we keep generations of the herd together (although the boys will get sent to market at some stage). So it's not uncommon to see mama cow hanging out specifically with her three offspring of the past few years, if the offspring don't have offspring of their own. Once they do, they seem to create their new family grouping. On the whole, the larger herd stays (and strays) together.

Cows share nannying duties. Often you will see one cow with a group of young calves around her. She's the nanny for the day and will hang around one place while all the other cows roam around munching. Come dinner time, the cows return and feed their youngsters and then hang with them for the night. In our herd it is quite often Browny, the outsider hereford (the others are Angus) who will be the nanny. She's a really good mum.

As the calves get older they tend to hang in their own bunch sleeping a lot of the day. This often means that their mums are way up the other end of the 100ac paddock, over a hill and behind some trees - in other words, not easily visible. Some weeks ago I watched the group of young calves wake up begin looking for their mamas, only they were looking in the wrong place and heading in the opposite direction. Then I saw something I'd never seen before. Alfred, their dad, broke away from the herd of cows and started loping after the calves. When he was at a place they could see him, he called and they turned around and began running to him. He then turned back and led all the calves back to their mums. I'd never seen a bull exhibit that type of responsibility before.

One of our cows had a calf that died at birth. This meant she had a full udder but nothing to feed. Over a period of days, I watched two young but weaned heifers taking a drink from her to assist with the pressure. I don't think they were just after the milk, I really do think they were helping her lessen the pain.

We use a 'carrot not stick' approach for management and movement. We've trained them (ie: bribed them with food) to come to certain calls and to the movement of our ute through the paddock. I can do pretty good a pied-piper imitation with our cows and the call of 'c'mooon c'mooon'.

I think happy calm cows taste better. I know they get better prices at market. A calm healthy steer in the pen gets us almost 10% more for the sale than the fractious bellowing upset steer in the pen next door. But that's not why we treat them well. We treat them well because they are sentient beings with feelings, moods, needs, affections and they have the basic right, as do all living things, to be treated with respect.
posted by Kerasia at 5:56 PM on March 25, 2012 [407 favorites]


or Jersey Shores.
posted by futz at 5:57 PM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't know if animals can feel what humans know as happiness. I do know that humans can anthropormophize at the drop of a hat.
posted by notme at 5:58 PM on March 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


I don't know if animals can feel what humans know as happiness. I do know that humans can anthropormophize at the drop of a hat.

Yeah, and it makes the hat really unhappy.
posted by Kerasia at 6:01 PM on March 25, 2012 [129 favorites]


Thanks for the first hand knowledge kerasia. I'd love to hear more!
posted by futz at 6:05 PM on March 25, 2012


I think there's a case to be made that assuming animals, who evolved along from the same ancestors we did, don't have emotions is as much an error as assuming their emotions are identical to ours.

Human beings let out into a pretty day after confinement feel what is probably a simple form of happiness, in terms of feeling relaxed, optimistic, alert, and having increased energy. Why couldn't cows feel that way? They may not have complex thoughts as to why they feel good, but they certainly are exhibiting behaviors extremely similar to human behaviors in a similar situation. Saying a cow can feel happy isn't the same thing as saying a cow can think about its mortality or ponder infinity.
posted by emjaybee at 6:07 PM on March 25, 2012 [9 favorites]


Human beings let out into a pretty day after confinement feel what is probably a simple form of happiness, in terms of feeling relaxed, optimistic, alert, and having increased energy. Why couldn't cows feel that way? They may not have complex thoughts as to why they feel good, but they certainly are exhibiting behaviors extremely similar to human behaviors in a similar situation. Saying a cow can feel happy isn't the same thing as saying a cow can think about its mortality or ponder infinity.

Cows may also be the deepest philosophers alive on this planet as they stand in their fields and chew their cuds. We can't read their minds, we have NO idea what goes on in there. They may have extensive gedankexperimenten going on in there all the time and we would never know it.
posted by hippybear at 6:12 PM on March 25, 2012 [6 favorites]


Cows may also be the deepest philosophers alive on this planet as they stand in their fields and chew their cuds. We can't read their minds, we have NO idea what goes on in there. They may have extensive gedankexperimenten going on in there all the time and we would never know it.

Rumor has it that Einstein actually saw his famous formula scratched out on the side of a cow pen right before his breakthrough.
posted by emjaybee at 6:16 PM on March 25, 2012


Using "exhibiting behaviors extremely similar to human behaviors in a similar situation" to conclude that "experiencing emotions similar to human emotions in a similar situation" is essentially the definition of anthropomorphizing. It may be comforting to think of these cows as happy, but I don't know of any way to scientifically confirm that they experience something similar to human happiness.
posted by notme at 6:17 PM on March 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


elgilito: "Sety's right. "

brushie brushie brushie
posted by idiopath at 6:26 PM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


notme: "I do know that humans can anthropormophize at the drop of a hat."

That's just natural primate behavior, calling it anthropomorphization is just you anthropomorphizing it.
posted by Riki tiki at 6:26 PM on March 25, 2012 [11 favorites]


Well, emotions are largely the product of the limbic system. I don't know much about the limbic system of cows, but they are mammals and likely have similar endocrine secretions which affect their neurochemistry as any other mammal.

That said, there is no real way to test for animal emotions, so it's not really a studied field outside of observation, and it's difficult to get away from anthropomorphic projection when doing that.
posted by hippybear at 6:27 PM on March 25, 2012


Mmm I love scratching my face on the grass mmmmm yes.
posted by not_on_display at 6:35 PM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


While we're on the subject, does what other people call "blue" look the same as what I call "blue?" Remind me not to take any fashion advice!
posted by salvia at 6:38 PM on March 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


While we're on the subject, does what other people call "blue" look the same as what I call "blue?"

When it comes to blue, green, and black, it all depends on where you come from and what language you speak.
posted by hippybear at 6:41 PM on March 25, 2012 [6 favorites]


Thanks futz.

I think it is fair to say that a 'happy' cow is one who has an absence of anxiety in their lives.

I've often wondered if cows communicate through a form of telepathy. So in researching googling 'cow telepathy' I came across this article: The Woman Who Thinks Like a Cow ...so would that be bovopomorphizing?
Dr Temple Grandin has a legendary ability to read the animal mind and understand animal behaviour when no one else can. But this is no feat of telepathy; her explanation is simple. She's convinced she experiences the world much as an animal does and that it's all down to her autistic brain.

Temple believes she experiences life like a prey animal in the wild. Her emotions are much simpler than most people's and she feels constantly anxious – always alert and looking for danger. It's this struggle with overwhelming anxiety that led her to discover just how much she has in common with animals and, in particular, cows.

During a summer spent on her aunt's ranch, when she was 16, she began to notice that nervous cattle seemed to calm down when they entered a piece of equipment called a squeeze chute.

Designed to hold the cattle still, whilst they received veterinary treatment, the wooden contraption clamped the cows along either side of the body. As the sides squeezed their flanks, Temple noticed several of the cows become visibly relaxed and calm.

Eager to find a way to conquer her own anxiety she asked her aunt to operate the chute on her. The result was a revelation. Temple felt much calmer and the effect lasted for several hours afterwards.

Inspired by her experiences on the ranch, she built her own human squeeze machine at home. She still has one installed in her bedroom.
posted by Kerasia at 6:42 PM on March 25, 2012 [7 favorites]


Using "exhibiting behaviors extremely similar to human behaviors in a similar situation" to conclude that "experiencing emotions similar to human emotions in a similar situation" is essentially the definition of anthropomorphizing. It may be comforting to think of these cows as happy, but I don't know of any way to scientifically confirm that they experience something similar to human happiness.

Cows are mammals; they have pretty much the same limbic system we do, and the current state of affective neuroscience has gone a long way toward demonstrating objectively that other mammals do experience emotions like pleasure. These emotions may well be closer to human happiness than we tend to believe, especially when it comes to simple pleasures -- does the joy of being in a green field in the spring really require much conscious thought?
posted by vorfeed at 6:44 PM on March 25, 2012 [11 favorites]


You should all check out Temple Grandin's book and You Tube videos if you haven't already. I haven't figured out how to link from my new device yet.
posted by futz at 6:45 PM on March 25, 2012


It may be comforting to think of these cows as happy, but I don't know of any way to scientifically confirm that they experience something similar to human happiness.

I hear you say you think that, but can you prove it?
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:45 PM on March 25, 2012 [11 favorites]


You should all check out Temple Grandin's book and You Tube videos if you haven't already.

Grandin is awesome. She's been on NPR numerous times for various reasons. Also, the HBO biopic starring Claire Danes is a really good introduction to her and her early story about discovering her unique worldview.
posted by hippybear at 6:47 PM on March 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


ARG. Jinx kerasia. preview fail on my part! We were both heading towards the same point.
posted by futz at 6:49 PM on March 25, 2012


-for the cows rubbing their ears and cheeks on the ground and on fence posts: could they have ear mites? Do their ears itch?

- for the cavorting cows - how much of this is mating time hormones?


Not an official cow-ologist, but I grew up on a farm (Beef, not dairy). In my experience, rubbing could be bugs, could just be itchery - though that's some pretty aggressive ear rubbing. Gamboling is not necessarily hormonal, but riding usually is.

Cows are interesting creatures. I don't think it's a stretch to say they experience happiness, pleasure, sadness, anger, or fear, or think it's anthropomorphizing to say they do. It seems weird to think that humans have a monopoly on emotions; we're animals too, aren't we?
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 7:01 PM on March 25, 2012 [5 favorites]


These are Holsteins. You're probably thinking of Jersey sores.
My stock-rearing experience extends no further than shovelling shite for a local farmer as a Saturday job while a lad, but could swear there's nothing breed specific about ringworm, it's just a fungal infection, isn't it? Maybe more prevalent in the UK with our damp climate. This is a serious issue and I demand answers!
posted by Abiezer at 7:04 PM on March 25, 2012


When I was young my family used to still drive cattle between summer pasture in the eastern Cascade foothills and winter pasture along the Columbia River. It took three days and as we would get within the last few miles from their new seasonal home the cows would really pick up the pace. Once we were through the final gate the cavorting would begin, galloping through the fields, splashing in the creek head-butting, scratching and finally getting down to some serious grass eating making up for three days on the road.

We were the last family in the area that still moved cattle on horseback. The two bigger ranches used trucks and the smaller ones just fed hay through the winter. It became a little event for the town; all the old timers would saddle up their horses join us. It was an amazing experience for a kid. Up before dawn to eat, pack up camp and get the horses ready. All day in the saddle driving cows and watching the ground for arrowheads and old bottles. Sitting around the campfire at night listening amazing stories and songs of long gone days told by wiry old men. What I would give to go back to those nights with a video camera or even a tape recorder. One year when I was about 10 Redd who’d spent most of his life running sheep between the Columbia River and Mt. Adams took me aside, taught me to shoot and then gave me his Winchester saddle rifle. He died that winter.

Spring of 86 was the last time we moved cattle. My grandfather died that summer and since all of his kids had careers outside the ranch the herd was sold off, they split the money and the cows never went back to their winter pasture.
posted by the_artificer at 7:04 PM on March 25, 2012 [62 favorites]


Near as I can tell, lmost anything can get ringworm. But I am not a ringworm-ologist, either.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 7:08 PM on March 25, 2012


But I am not a ringworm-ologist, either.

it's really more of a hobby
posted by neuromodulator at 7:11 PM on March 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


We treat them well because they are sentient beings with feelings, moods, needs, affections and they have the basic right, as do all living things, to be treated with respect.

But you slaughter them?
posted by xmutex at 7:13 PM on March 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Reading hal9k's comment again, I think I've just missed a joke; they're really milking the puns in this thread.
posted by Abiezer at 7:16 PM on March 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


The Temple Grandin movie starring Claire Danes is quite good.

I got to see Grandin speak at the local college a couple of years ago. She was fantastic.
posted by neuron at 7:23 PM on March 25, 2012


I don't think I've ever before seen a cow cavort.

Muppet Show, Lynn Redgrave hosting, Robin Hood theme. Every time the Muppets cavorted, they jumped around shouting CAVORT CAVORT CAVORT CAVORT.

I guarantee you that was what those cows were thinking. Other than possibly I HAVE FOUR STOMACHS OH LOOK CLOVER.
posted by middleclasstool at 7:24 PM on March 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


That was awesome. Just awesome.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 7:31 PM on March 25, 2012


To this day whenever I drive by real cows or a billboard with cows on it, Danny Devito from Throw Mama From The Train says "Look! Cows!" in my brain.

My wife and I do that every time we see cows. Every time. It never fails to make each of us laugh.

BTW, the actual line is just "Cows!"
posted by Curious Artificer at 7:38 PM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


But you slaughter them?

Sure, the answer is yes. They can either have miserable, confined, sick lives before slaughter, or they can have content, outdoor, healthy lives. Farm animals don't usually die natural deaths and get buried in the town churchyard. They were born for husbandry; without that, and the death it entails, they wouldn't exist. The difference between treating them with kindness and respect and treating them as insensate product is a wide ethical chasm.

Meanwhile, we send people to their deaths by the thousands - in war, in prisons, in atrocities, in epidemic disease, because of poor health care.

Cognitive dissonance like crazy, sure. Welcome to the planet. cf Eating Animals.

To this day whenever I drive by real cows or a billboard with cows on it, Danny Devito from Throw Mama From The Train says "Look! Cows!" in my brain.

Related: the Cow Game. "Cow. I win." I'm amazed more people don't know of this because it seems pretty widespread in my peer group.
posted by Miko at 7:55 PM on March 25, 2012 [19 favorites]


The Cow Game I know of goes like this: You count up all the cows you pass. If you're in a car with a competitor you get the ones on your side of the road. You just keep counting, no matter how much time passes. Until you pass a graveyard, at which point you lose all your cows.
posted by zennie at 8:03 PM on March 25, 2012 [6 favorites]


Until you pass a graveyard, at which point you lose all your cows.

Sometimes the graveyard you pass is a really famous one. And you know it's really famous, because all the people are just dying to be buried there.
posted by hippybear at 8:08 PM on March 25, 2012 [5 favorites]


Honestly all I could think when I watched the video was, 'yep, that's why MUN goes up in the Spring.'

I have seen cows do this, minus the face-scratching. I didn't like the implication, by the stamp at the end of the video, that organic milk cows run free through the fields. Running free through the fields has no relationship to organicness.
posted by zennie at 8:13 PM on March 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Rumple writes "FWIW those are dairy cows."

They be food for something eventually.

While we're on the subject, does what other people call 'blue' look the same as what I call 'blue?'

In at least some cases: No. Every once and a while I'll get into a disagreement with my wife over what colour something is and this happens with other people as well so I know it's my vision that isn't standard.
posted by Mitheral at 8:32 PM on March 25, 2012


I love watching animals experiencing joy. It's contagious.
posted by stoneweaver at 8:37 PM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Grew up on a dairy farm and this happened every year. We never let the cows graze for more than an hour or so the first day. Even with this short of timespan to graze, the cows always developed a severe case of "green Hersey squirts". They were also deadly with timing and range and aim.
posted by Jumpin Jack Flash at 8:39 PM on March 25, 2012


I think happy calm cows taste better. I know they get better prices at market. A calm healthy steer in the pen gets us almost 10% more for the sale than the fractious bellowing upset steer in the pen next door. But that's not why we treat them well. We treat them well because they are sentient beings with feelings, moods, needs, affections and they have the basic right, as do all living things, to be treated with respect.

No, you had it right the first time, we treat them well because that way, they are more delicious.

I used to hear about this stuff from my Grandfather, who was a veterinarian who worked at the USDA as a meat inspector and researcher, back before WWII. Oh he had a million stories. One time he told me about how they used to ship livestock via railroad to market, before they had refrigerator cars. It was too expensive to slaughter them locally and just ship the meat long distances packed in dry ice, the ice would evaporate before it got to the destination. Apparently they shipped meat short distances packed in dry ice up until the 1950s, I posted a scan of his Dry Ice Loading Chart slide rule on my blog.

The other problem was that shipping the cattle long distances by railroad was stressful, the cattle would lose weight, and even lose muscle mass. You couldn't let them out to get food and water during the trip, so they'd get dehydrated and sick. Since beef was sold by the pound, the cattle ranchers thought they were getting ripped off when the weight of cattle they sold wasn't the weight of cattle received at the other end, and they got paid less.

So my Grandfather told me, he had a brilliant idea. Why not give the cattle tranquilizers for the railroad trip? They could sleep part of the way, and when it wore off, they'd be inactive enough to keep them stress free for the rest of the trip. When they got to the destination, they could go into a pen for a day or so to get tranquilizers out of their system.

So the USDA tried it as an experiment. But the vet who tranquilized the cattle was inexperienced. He used a syringe with a needle that was too long, and accidentally punctured the kidneys of all the cattle he injected. They seemed fine when the train left. But when the train arrived at the slaughterhouse, the cattle were already long dead. Oops. The USDA had to pay for the loss of the cattle, they never tried that experiment again.

I'll stop there. I could tell you far worse stories, that make Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle" look tame in comparison. Fortunately they are from a bygone era and no longer used today.. I hope.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:46 PM on March 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


I don't know if animals can feel what humans know as happiness. I do know that humans can anthropormophize at the drop of a hat.

It is true, we don't really know what a cow is feeling. But is is true that 1. having evolved from a common ancestor somewhere along the line there is likely some similarity in emotion from that source, in the same way that we're both mammals, have eyes and ears and four limbs, 2. facing similar needs and desires in life (to live, to eat, to reproduce) would produce emotions that at least seem similar, and 3. even if there might be something there we can't understand, that doesn't necessarily make it invalid and unworthy of appreciation.

We can't be sure that other humans feel the same kinds of things that we do, but we can reasonably extrapolate what they're feeling most times. The connection to cows may be more tenuous, but it's not without basis.
posted by JHarris at 8:52 PM on March 25, 2012 [7 favorites]


Holy anthropomorphizing, Batman! I see animals exploring a changed environment, but that makes them "happy"?

I see jharris has just made my point. You are making a leap of faith when you posit anything about an intelligence beyond your own. Solipsism is lonely, I like to be liberal in extrapolating that there is consciousness experiencing the world in a meaningful and emotional way all around me.
posted by Meatbomb at 8:58 PM on March 25, 2012 [6 favorites]


I don't think the connection is tenuous at all; it's more than fair to assume that cows share somewhat similar emotions with us, given what we know of animal evolution and physiology, as folks mentioned above.

Honestly, the far more ridiculous assumption is the opposite: that human emotions are so unique that no other animal could possibly share them in any kind of meaningful way. What a strange, unsupported foundation to build an argument on.
posted by mediareport at 8:58 PM on March 25, 2012 [10 favorites]


@18s -- MWA MWA MWA OH GRASS I AM GOIN TO EAT THE SHIT OUTTA YOU
posted by brappi at 9:02 PM on March 25, 2012


No, you had it right the first time, we treat them well because that way, they are more delicious.

Hi Charlie. I can't speak to your farming practices but in regards to my own I treat our cattle, plus our non-producing rescue animals - donkeys, horses and chickens - well because that's the only way I can treat an animal under my care.

Many people think 'grain-fed' beef (ie: crowded in a pen with shit up their hocks and often unable to lie down) tastes better. It doesn't to me, but even if it did, I could not raise my cattle that way.
posted by Kerasia at 9:19 PM on March 25, 2012 [9 favorites]


Well yeah, but how awesome is it that culinary quality and animal welfare line up so neatly? A well-raised animal is worth more from a better world standpoint (like Fair Trade products) and from a better meal standpoint. Like you, we treat our animals well because that's how they deserve to be treated, it's not even a question. However, getting better prices at market from both people interested in really well treated animals as well as people interested in really delicious meat makes doing so a lot more viable.
posted by stet at 9:54 PM on March 25, 2012


When I'm driving and see a cow I think of Gary Larson.
posted by exphysicist345 at 10:05 PM on March 25, 2012 [8 favorites]


The Green Field is always there for me. I will stay with you, Green Field. I trust you, Green Field.

Ah! The Blue Links! Why did you leave me? The Green Links are always there for me.
posted by BiggerJ at 10:05 PM on March 25, 2012


Well, Kerasia, I've never lived on a farm, except briefly when my Dad had a fit of nostalgia for his youth, living on the family farm in an Amish community, and he decided to become a gentleman farmer. That didn't last too long, I think he gave up shortly after some problems he didn't expect. Let's just say he found out why the County Extension Office gave a bounty of $15 per head on feral dogs. He found some tenant farmers to deal with the hard realities, and enjoyed it more as a spectator.

But I've been around plenty of farmers, and they all seemed to love their animals, even though they might treat them like livestock. Which of course they are.

You remind me of an argument I had with a guy once, he was a lifelong city boy and had no clue about agriculture. I told him about how great Iowa beef was and he had a fit. I didn't know he was a vegetarian, one of those militant types. He showed me pictures of a penned up calf with some awful runoff draining from the concrete pad. He said the animals were being tortured by being confined in small pens, look how sick it made them. I said he had no clue what he was looking at, the situation was exactly reversed from what he thought. The calf was sick so it was isolated from the herd, probably under orders of a veterinarian. That was the sole confinement pen in the photo that showed the inside of the barn. None of the other cattle were in confinement, just the poor sick calf. So this scene of horror was actually a scene of benevolent care for an animal. It just depends on how you look at it.

Well anyway, I am not happy with the quality of beef these days. I haven't eaten a decent steak in probably 20 years. That's when the market generally switched to low fat beef. Before that time, you could buy a steak that was marbled with fat, usually it was corn fed. But the preference for low fat beef is stupid. Cooking beef properly renders out most of the fat, leaving the meat tender. Low fat beef is as tough as shoe leather. I dunno, maybe you can buy top grade beef that is better, but I haven't seen any in years. AFAIK it is possible to do corn or grain fed beef economically, humanely, without confinement feeding, but then, you know more about this than me.

Maybe I'm just spoiled, I remember an era when a large family like mine would buy a whole side of beef and it would be butchered and kept in deep freeze storage at the community meat locker, you could go get some of it as you needed it. Now I'm being nostalgic. Hell, I'm nostalgic for meat wrapped in butcher paper instead of plastic wrap on a styrofoam plate.
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:31 PM on March 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


You know, I fucking don't really trust cows.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:02 PM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Honestly, the far more ridiculous assumption is the opposite: that human emotions are so unique that no other animal could possibly share them in any kind of meaningful way. What a strange, unsupported foundation to build an argument on.

Yes, exactly, thank you.
posted by salvia at 11:06 PM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


You know, I fucking don't really trust cows.
posted by Meatbomb at 11:57 PM on March 25, 2012


Charlie, I concur - it's really hard to find a tasty marbled steak or (drooling) one of those delicious rolled roasts of my childhood. I think it's because they don't hang the beef long enough these days. Supermarkets in Australia and maybe the US too, don't hang meat at all. It may be only days between slaughter and sale, whereas in the 'old days' (pining) beef was hung for at least two weeks to, um, mature.

Unfortunately we don't have the humane mobile abattoirs of the US; if we did, I'd be eating Fred next month with mushrooms and a red wine sauce and waiting for his jet black hide to be tanned for our floor. I know there are farmers who kill and butcher their own cattle but we can't do it as we have neither the training nor the heart.

If you can, find a butcher shop and ask if they have any long hung meat (snigger). Your tasty steak might be there waiting for you ready to be wrapped in butchers' paper.
posted by Kerasia at 12:22 AM on March 26, 2012


I read this as Crows being released from winter housing; I am disappoint.

Growing up in a part of the Netherlands were it was not unusual to see cows frolic from out of my class room window, seeing cows going steer crazy is not news.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:27 AM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Some Dutch cows.
posted by Pendragon at 3:55 AM on March 26, 2012


I don't see animals cavorting. I see cows simply reacting to a new environment. Whether or not one believes cows experience pleasures on the level of humans, I don't think it makes sense to interpret that type of behavior as happiness, just as one shouldn't interpret mysogeny from the act of male monkeys that rape their female counterparts. It's anthropomorphism. Who knows why they do the things they do?
posted by savvysearch at 4:15 AM on March 26, 2012


Whether or not one believes cows experience pleasures on the level of humans, I don't think it makes sense to interpret that type of behavior as happiness, just as one shouldn't interpret mysogeny from the act of male monkeys that rape their female counterparts. It's anthropomorphism. Who knows why they do the things they do?

Yeah, and who knows why humans do the things humans do. But no cows aren't like us, they're alien beings, hairy Cthulhus who watch you with mad eyes and dream all day of shoggoths.

Or like robots, entirely without emotion: "I AM COWDROID 9600 DISPENSER PORT CHARGED FOR MILK READY FOR DISPERSAL BEEP BEEP BOOP"

It is true that one shouldn't anthropomorphize animals unduly. But having evolved from common ancestors and having far less biologically separating us than from, say, paramecium, tapeworms, or iguanas, it is highly suggestive that we experience similar emotional states.
posted by JHarris at 5:25 AM on March 26, 2012 [12 favorites]


Unfortunately we don't have the humane mobile abattoirs of the US

That's too bad. I am extremely fortunate to be living in an area with several mobile slaughter operations, which means that small-scale and even hobbyist farmers have a cost-effective and humane way to raise and sell animals. I am much happier knowing that one person raised the animal from young through to slaughter; then it goes directly to the cutting operation where I can specify how I want it cut, how long I want it hung, etc. The quality is higher, the cost is lower, and I am comfortable with the ethics, unlike the industrial operations that supply most of the market.

Maybe I'm just spoiled, I remember an era when a large family like mine would buy a whole side of beef and it would be butchered and kept in deep freeze storage at the community meat locker, you could go get some of it as you needed it. Now I'm being nostalgic. Hell, I'm nostalgic for meat wrapped in butcher paper instead of plastic wrap on a styrofoam plate.

This must be regional, because that is still normal here. I don't bother renting space in a meat locker because I have a large freezer at home, but there are a couple of big meat lockers available to rent if I did need the space. The butcher will wrap in paper and/or shrinkwrap, whichever you want, and like I said above hanging time is part of what you specify when you place the order with the cutting shop. The farmer I buy beef from raises several breeds and cross-breeds of cattle; I always ask him which is the high-fat option and choose that one because I like the flavor.
posted by Forktine at 5:37 AM on March 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


The cows in India are much more laid back about things. Chill people.
posted by Fizz at 6:04 AM on March 26, 2012


Okay, that's just awesome! Happy animals in a fresh environment. I can relate, I feel the same way in the spring.

When I was younger and hippies abounded, my grandparents, aunt and uncle bought 5 acres of farmland in Watsonville, CA. The goal, as it turned out, was to grow exceptional pot, but to fool the law, they put together a working farm. There were chickens, guinea fowl, peacocks (screaming like fools) two hogs named Ham and Eggs, and a steer named Chuck (as in steak).

They made an arrangement with the co-op down the road to get all the produce that was past selling, so the hogs were fed mostly Haas Avocados. (Let me just say that while Spanish pigs eating acorns are tasty, NOTHING beats the flavor of pork fed on avocados.) The steer, Chuck, had acres of shady pasture to roam around in.

As you can tell by their names, there was no doubt that the animals were to become our food at some point, but they were treated humanely while they were alive.

There's no shame in eating an animal raised for that purpose if the animal was well treated during its life.

Luckily, I can get meat raised the same way at my local farmer's market. It's monsterously expensive compared to the tasteless crap you find in supermarkets, but cheap if you consider the impact on the world.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:10 AM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Rumple writes "FWIW those are dairy cows."

They be food for something eventually.


I don't want to ruin your day, but we'll all be food for something eventually.
posted by aught at 6:21 AM on March 26, 2012 [9 favorites]


My cube is in an interior space looking at 2 lawyer offices. After 8 hours of this, I too frolic when I'm let out.
posted by stormpooper at 6:26 AM on March 26, 2012 [9 favorites]


But I've been around plenty of farmers, and they all seemed to love their animals, even though they might treat them like livestock. Which of course they are.

I wish I could say I found this to be universally true, but I really haven't. Many of the farmers I deal with regularly are very kind and have a steward's love for their animals. But over the last few decades, agribusiness operations have reached an extremity where some of the farmers I have had encounters with at conferences and at the cattle auction in Oklahoma City which reveal that some animal farmers, sadly, really evince no such attachment to their "product." There's a level of scale at which meaningful attachment breaks down.

This must be regional, because that is still normal here.

Yeah, you can do this in Northern New England too - we don't have anything called "community meat lockers"that I know of, but we do have farmers from whom you can purchase beef as a CSA pre-season and collect it as you will throughout the year, while they store it in their facility.

I still want a chest freezer though.
posted by Miko at 6:46 AM on March 26, 2012


we don't have anything called "community meat lockers"that I know of

Around here, these aren't public facilities like a park -- it's a big freezer building, usually behind the front room of a cut/wrap business, where you can rent space on a monthly or yearly basis. A subzero version of a storage facility, basically. I'd be surprised if they didn't exist somewhere around you -- the people who do cut/wrap services for deer will know, certainly.
posted by Forktine at 6:57 AM on March 26, 2012


> Honestly, the far more ridiculous assumption is the opposite: that human emotions are so unique that no other animal could possibly share them in any kind of meaningful way. What a strange, unsupported foundation to build an argument on.

YES! Yes, yes, yes!
posted by OsoMeaty at 7:00 AM on March 26, 2012


I bet it's just that our butcher shops do it. I have no doubt that someone other than direct-sale farmers do it because as you say, hunting, and also the number of locavore/home-raising folks.
posted by Miko at 7:03 AM on March 26, 2012


When I lived in rural Texas, I used to see cows cavorting all the time (although we used to call it "cow dancing"). I think everything that lives enjoys a little sunshine, fresh air and space to twirl in every so often.
posted by crush-onastick at 7:19 AM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Cows frolicked rather than cavorted in the farm next to our house. I used to help out when I was a kid and also experienced being stalked by a dairy herd.
posted by arcticseal at 7:27 AM on March 26, 2012


To this day whenever I drive by real cows or a billboard with cows on it, Danny Devito from Throw Mama From The Train says "Look! Cows!" in my brain.

If you're in the car with me, you get me hear me sing: "I heard it through the bovine!"
posted by marxchivist at 7:38 AM on March 26, 2012


"That made me want to give up meat more than any PETA video ever has."

FWIW those are dairy cows.

..so milk it for what it's worth.
posted by samsara at 7:48 AM on March 26, 2012


-for the cows rubbing their ears and cheeks on the ground and on fence posts: could they have ear mites? Do their ears itch?

Miko, even in their stalls they have things to rub on (the stalls themselves), so that's not necessarily their reaction. I'd think scent-marking is possible, although it would take observations of cows sniffing where others had marked to prove anything.
posted by IAmBroom at 7:59 AM on March 26, 2012


Flood: "Does happy make them taste better?"

As a general rule, yes.

Citation please, stet. And, not anecdata.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:00 AM on March 26, 2012


Happy animals is how Temple Grandin became the pre-eminent designer of herd animal facilities.
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:24 AM on March 26, 2012


True, seanmpuckett, but that has nothing to do with the taste of their meat.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:28 AM on March 26, 2012


I don't think it's a stretch to say they experience happiness, pleasure, sadness, anger, or fear, or think it's anthropomorphizing to say they do. It seems weird to think that humans have a monopoly on emotions; we're animals too, aren't we?

I visit my uncle's dairy farm in Ireland once in a while. One time, I was watching him attaching the milking machines to the cows. From out of the blue, I was shoved from behind. Bewildered, I looked around to see a milk cow briskly trotting away from the scene of the crime. I assume she was checking me out because I was an unfamiliar person.

My cousin told me that 3-year old steers that she has pail-raised when they were calves, would years later come running up to her for to rub their flanks against her and give her gentle head butts. This was after she had been away at college for awhile; because my uncle and male cousin handled all of the beef cattle exclusively, she had not been herding or feeding them since they were at least a year old. Steers that had suckled their mothers exclusively avoided her and were decisively unfriendly.

Another time when I was visiting, there was a calf with pink eye that needed to isolated and treated. It was decided that the best way to do this was to herd the calf into a barn along with it's mother. Since they were out in the field grazing we had to cut them off from the herd and drive them into the barn. Both the calf & mother were mooing in a way that sounded to me like they were afraid; if you were close enough, you could see the whites of their eyes. It appeared to me that we had set off their fear-prey emotions and that they were afraid that something terrible was about to happen.

So, if a cow can experience curiosity and fear or recognize a friendly human years later, why wouldn't they be able to experience pleasure and happiness?
posted by echolalia67 at 8:35 AM on March 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


IAmBroom: The technical term for unhappy meat is "dark cutting". Relevant info on Grandin's site..

Incidentally, the "gamey" taste and texture associated with incompetently hunted wild animals is basically caused by the dark cutting phenomena. If the hunter doesn't kill the animal quickly, it panics, runs, and dies slowly -- and the flavour of meat is severely degraded. (This is one of the reasons I am not in favour of bowhunting; it's harder to humanely dispatch an animal with a bow than with a bullet, and if you don't do it right, the meat tastes bad in addition to the extra suffering.)
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:47 AM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


In On Food and Cooking, by Harold McGee, he cites the phenomenon of dark-cutting being first described in the 18th century. It's page 96 in my copy but you can look it up in the index under Meat--Texture--Slaughter. He goes on in greater detail. The section starts with "By a fortunate coincidence, the most humane methods of slaughter are those that result in the highest quality of meat." The text goes on from there to describe the physiology of stressed animals on meat quality.

For husbandry in general, I don't have as authoritative and unbiased a citation on hand (and I need to go milk the goat), but The Stockman Grass Farmer and American Pastured Poultry Producers Association sure talk it up. The European Appellations (i.e. Jamon Iberico) have husbandry specification in the code that require the animals to be, well, happy, and these are culinary standards, not ethical ones.
posted by stet at 9:24 AM on March 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


From the standpoint of inquiry, it makes sense to maintain a healthy skepticism about something as unknowable as whether a cow can experience happiness (this even though I think what circumstantial evidence we have supports casting one's lot with the yes camp). From a practical standpoint, though, I think assuming some level of sentience is the only prudent course of action, because the costs of being wrong are much lower. This of course assumes that you hew to a moral framework that proscribes the reduction of actions that cause unnecessary pain and suffering in other sentient beings.
posted by invitapriore at 9:32 AM on March 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


Well.... theoretically unknowable perhaps, but practically unknowable?

If you punch a person, he tends to hit back, or get away from you. If you kick a cow, likewise, the cow will probably retaliate or flee. Whether the cow is thinking "Person crazy defend myself" or Ҵﬗঊஇഈሜ, the result is the same, so in the absence of proof to the contrary it makes sense to assume similar thought processes behind the reactions. The same goes for expressions of joy.

This is inductive reasoning and not what one could call solid proof, but inductive reasoning gets better the more evidence you acquire, and it's not like we're lacking the ability to observe animals and gain all the evidence we could care for. This is why I think it's reasonable to assume that, yes, animals do have thoughts and feelings, to such an extent that I would say that this assumption is more like the default position, and someone wishing to convince me otherwise is going to have to prove his case, as mine is pretty much evident.

(Yeah, this comment is pretty much just an excuse to say Ҵﬗঊஇഈሜ.)
posted by JHarris at 11:49 AM on March 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


Another good introduction to Temple Grandin is Oliver Sacks' essay on her in An Anthropologist on Mars, which draws its title from her description of dealing with other human beings socially.

Also seconding the HBO/Claire Danes biopic, which is excellent.
posted by McCoy Pauley at 11:50 AM on March 26, 2012


Right, JHarris, that's what I was getting at when I said that circumstantial evidence seems to favor the hypothesis that cows experience something like emotion. I'm not as certain of that hypothesis as I am of the hypothesis that the sun will rise tomorrow, but it seems like a good bet. The reason for the disparity in my levels of credence is that there is a strong theoretical foundation underlying my belief about the sun, whereas a comprehensive and thoroughly-tested theory of cognition has yet to be developed.
posted by invitapriore at 11:57 AM on March 26, 2012


I have no sentient experiences. I lost them in a bicycle accident when I was 15. I have been a zombie ever since. I exhibit all the behaviors you correlate with sentience, but there is "no one there".

You may disbelieve me, but you can't prove I am lying.

I remember listening to the biologist who discovered a really interesting behavior. Showing any anthropomorphic thought in a biology paper can really fuck up your career, so he described his discovery something like: "When mice of such and such lineage are gently rubbed on the ribs (in a manner analogous to a person tickling another person) or when they engage in these very painstakingly described activities (analogous to people playing) they emit sounds described precisely by this envelope and spectrum (which when slowed down 10 times looks and sounds exactly like human laughter). It would be very irresponsible to say that mice laugh when tickled or when engaged in play."


The thing about sentience and bicycles is paraphrasing the philosopher Georges Rey
posted by Ayn Rand and God at 12:14 PM on March 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


The thing about sentience and bicycles is paraphrasing the philosopher Georges Rey

I haven't read anything by Rey but I'm fairly certain he was adapting the zombie concept from David Chalmers. Anyway, for Chalmers, the point of zombies isn't that we can't infer sentience in other beings; they're just a stepping stone in the formulation of his dualist philosophy of mind, which posits that consciousness is ontologically separate from all physical properties because of the fact that a world full of those zombies would be indistinguishable from ours, but since qualia exist, the difference between our world and the zombie world must be extra-physical.
posted by invitapriore at 12:48 PM on March 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: not a complete stranger to cow environments.
posted by herbplarfegan at 1:06 PM on March 26, 2012


Regarding dairy, what to you think happens to the 50% of calves that will never produce milk? Cattle aren't monogamous so there's no need for a 1:1 adult male/adult female ratio. The overwhelming majority of the boys go to slaughter.

Seriously. Ever wondered where veal (the meat of baby cows) comes from?

This is why I think it's reasonable to assume that, yes, animals do have thoughts and feelings, to such an extent that I would say that this assumption is more like the default position, and someone wishing to convince me otherwise is going to have to prove his case, as mine is pretty much evident.

Indeed. The back-scratching required to meet the other position is for extreme contortionists only.
posted by mrgrimm at 1:22 PM on March 26, 2012


Holy anthropomorphizing, Batman! I see animals exploring a changed environment, but that makes them "happy"? Category mistake alert.

Just wondering, do you believe in souls too? I wonder how much of the idea that humans are for some reason the only animals who experience emotion comes from religion.
posted by cairdeas at 2:09 PM on March 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


I wonder how much of the idea that humans are for some reason the only animals who experience emotion comes from religion.

Pretty much all of it.
posted by mrgrimm at 2:44 PM on March 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


I don't know if animals can feel what humans know as happiness.

Exactly, you don't. Nobody ever has. So shh.
posted by tumid dahlia at 6:02 PM on March 26, 2012


I wonder how much of the idea that humans are for some reason the only animals who experience emotion comes from religion.

My buddhist sect has a doctrine that only humans are sentient beings, because only humans are able to make a deliberate decision to act in a way that would lead themselves or others to enlightenment. Insentient beings have buddha nature but cannot become enlightened. But even lowly plants can gain karma and be reincarnated as a sentient being through various ways, like for example, being made into paper that contains writings that enlighten others, or perhaps by feeding a human so he can continue living and go on enlightening himself and others. But those are not the decisions of insentient beings, it only happens when humans make that decision for them. So in a way, it's our duty to eat plants and animals, and help them on their path to enlightenment.
posted by charlie don't surf at 7:36 PM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Q: Does the cow have Buddha nature?
A: Moo

Before enlightenment chew cud, make milk
After enlightenment chew cud, make milk
posted by Meatbomb at 8:27 PM on March 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


I wonder how much of the idea that humans are for some reason the only animals who experience emotion comes from religion.

Pretty much all of it.


That's such a facile argument by assigning identity politics.
posted by savvysearch at 8:40 PM on March 26, 2012


Q: Does the cow have Buddha nature?
A: Moo mu

FTFY
posted by hippybear at 9:10 PM on March 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


It is true that one shouldn't anthropomorphize animals unduly. But having evolved from common ancestors and having far less biologically separating us than from, say, paramecium, tapeworms, or iguanas, it is highly suggestive that we experience similar emotional states.

Anyway, you can simply ask humans why they do the things they do. That's why it is unduly antrhopomorphic to watch that video and assume that what we see is how cows express happiness, even if you do believe cows are often happy. You could also imagine their behavior in the video as relearning the function of their legs after being physically restricted for an amount of time, or rediscovering a novel environment (would the jumping behavior be markedly different if they were on a sandy beach?). The behavioral interpretations are limitless within the human imagination. And that's the problem. We're restricted by our own imaginations and behaviors, which aren't necessarily biologically dictated. that's where the conceit lies in defining the expression of happiness in species not our own.
posted by savvysearch at 9:46 PM on March 26, 2012


Anyway, you can simply ask humans why they do the things they do. That's why it is unduly antrhopomorphic to watch that video and assume that what we see is how cows express happiness, even if you do believe cows are often happy.

1. It is understood that this is basically true. But on the other hand, for god's sake man have a glass of empathy. Your argument, taken to extremes, is why the plight of the farm animal in the agribusiness world is so horrific, for how can we really know what animals like?

There are words that are frequently used to describe energetic animal behavior, words like gambol and frolic. They are recognized as uniformly positive terms. Maybe they do not represent the states that humans attribute to them, but human beings find something oddly appealing about them, and realize a kinship between those behaviors and their own. That's not proof, but it's awfully suggestive.

2. Regarding that sentence you can simply ask humans why they do the things they do, I think you are showing undue faith in the power of communication. It's a popular koan to consider whether the color blue means the same thing to different people, and that has a direct relation to the physical world. Emotional states are a lot more airy-fairy than that. It might be observed that animals, being incapable of human language, are also sometimes a lot less difficult to decipher.

This is my fourth comment in this thread that amounts to saying more-or-less the same thing, something I've noticed myself doing and am trying to stop.
posted by JHarris at 10:23 PM on March 26, 2012


A girl and her cow
posted by homunculus at 10:32 PM on March 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Well anyway, I am not happy with the quality of beef these days. I haven't eaten a decent steak in probably 20 years. That's when the market generally switched to low fat beef. Before that time, you could buy a steak that was marbled with fat, usually it was corn fed. But the preference for low fat beef is stupid. Cooking beef properly renders out most of the fat, leaving the meat tender. Low fat beef is as tough as shoe leather. I dunno, maybe you can buy top grade beef that is better, but I haven't seen any in years.

You should come to Korea. That's all you can buy here. It's certainly not optimal for cardiac health, I'm sure, but it is delicious. I have beef maybe two, three times a month on average, but that's enough.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 11:42 PM on March 26, 2012


1. It is understood that this is basically true. But on the other hand, for god's sake man have a glass of empathy. Your argument, taken to extremes, is why the plight of the farm animal in the agribusiness world is so horrific, for how can we really know what animals like?

I'm not concerned with the political implications of the argument. Politics shouldn't cloud critical discussions about animal or human behavior. We should be able to discuss these issues frankly and be allowed to be critical of these things without dismissing a statement as lacking empathy.

2. Regarding that sentence you can simply ask humans why they do the things they do, I think you are showing undue faith in the power of communication. It's a popular koan to consider whether the color blue means the same thing to different people, and that has a direct relation to the physical world.

What you're describing is about the anthropologic idea of meaning and how it differs from one culture to the next. Even with that, language is still the most effective way to communicate between different cultures. But cows don't live in a different culture, or that it's just a question of different cultural realities.The differences are in the levels of consciousness as reality, making it's a LOT more difficult to decipher.
posted by savvysearch at 1:15 AM on March 27, 2012


Q: Does the cow have Buddha nature?
A: Moo


Oh I can do better than that with a real Zen koan.

A disciple asked his master how he could attain enlightenment. The priest said, "Go to your hut and fast for a week while contemplating the buddha nature of the cow." After a week, the disciple did not return. Another day passed. And another. So the priest went to the disciple's hut to see what happened.

The priest stood outside the tiny hut and called the name of his disciple, again and again, but there was no answer. Finally he yelled, "What are you doing? Come out here at once." The disciple finally replied, "I can't, my horns won't fit through the door."
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:25 AM on March 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


"To give your sheep or cow a large spacious meadow is the way to control him"

- Shunryu Suzuki
posted by mrgrimm at 10:40 AM on March 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


"At the top of a one hundred foot pole an iron cow gives birth to a calf."
posted by mrgrimm at 10:42 AM on March 27, 2012


seanmpuckett, stet, thanks so much for non-whoowhoo references on the subject (meat flavor vs pre-death anxiety)!
posted by IAmBroom at 11:26 AM on March 27, 2012


Behaviorists discount internal processes, so behaviorally it's a negligible point anyway. Although, we can see that the behavior shows a marked increase, so we know something is reinforcing. What we don't know is if it's because of a removal of stimulus or an application of one. Behaviorists also implicitly believe in appetitive and aversive states, pleasure and pain.
Scientists have mapped out the pain and pleasure centers in many animals, and we know through tests that they use them.
Like others have said, they've also mapped out the nervous system and we know many animals, such as cows, respond exactly as we do.
To say we don't know if a cow is happy by looking at it is one thing. To say they we don't know if they have feelings is ignoring a whole lot of science.
posted by P.o.B. at 3:41 PM on March 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Well, I'm sure a biologist is going to pop into the thread any minute now and explain that emotions spontaneously emerged at the precise moment in our evolutionary history that we became sexually incompatible with Homo ergaster.
posted by Jpfed at 3:31 AM on March 28, 2012


mrgrimm: ""To give your sheep or cow a large spacious meadow is the way to control him"- Shunryu Suzuki"

Strange to some maybe, but that actually sounds like half the relationship advice I try to give as often as possible. ("If you have to keep your dog chained up, it's not your dog.")

Thanks to everyone for the discussion in this thread; I came to it late (thanks, sidebar!) and it's made my day.

(My only contribution would be that anybody who doesn't think a cow feels emotion has never been near pissed off cattle. But I create ridiculous inner lives for my cats, so I'm also not going to pretend that I don't have anthropomorphizing tendencies.)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 9:59 AM on March 28, 2012


"To say we don't know if a cow is happy by looking at it is one thing. To say they we don't know if they have feelings is ignoring a whole lot of science."

Yep.

Both anthropomorphism and anthropocentricism are interesting and revealing. They're not even opposites, really. Anthropocentricism can cause people to either assume that no creature other than humans are conscious and thus are automatons, or it can cause people to assume that other creatures are just like humans, because anthropocentricism limits the imagination of what it could be like to be a creature other than human.

But in both cases, what's particularly revealing has to do with those who take extreme positions.

It's not religion, precisely, that causes exceptionalist anthropocentricism. There are extent religions, and any number of possible religions, that don't take that view. In our culture, it's really more related to a particular religious tradition that became embedded in our culture. It's the dualism of judeo-christianity. And this extreme caution against anthropomorphisation has more to do with this cultural dualism than it does with actual scientific rigor.

A moderate caution is, of course, entirely appropriate. Not only because there's all sorts of behavior and inner-states that there's pretty much zero justification for anthropomorphizing onto various creatures, but also because humans clearly have an intense predisposition to doing this and thus are likely to do so inappropriately. I think this results from the fact that our primary cognitive mode involves our theories of mind. We try to understand the world by attributing motives and goals to other things — not just people, but animals and even inanimate objects and the cosmos as a whole — that we ourselves possess.

But, as explained by many others already, unless one assumes some distinct qualitative difference between humans and all other creatures — a frequently assumed distinction that is, nevertheless, not scientifically justifiable — then similarity is similarity. Mammalian brains are pretty similar, and some parts of mammalian brains are essentially identical. Unless one holds to some invisible, possibly metaphysical difference, then it's quite odd to insist that what happens in these very similar brains is fundamentally different than what happens in our brains. In many cases, it's most likely a quantitative difference, not qualitative.

But especially with emotion, there's likely very little difference at all. Limbic systems, as mentioned, are quite similar. How basic emotions interact with the stuff that isn't similar will cause important differences. We can experience happiness and joy, even erotic desire, entirely on the basis of highly abstracted symbolic cognitive processing (i.e., language). Our basic motivations are translated through various degrees of abstraction. It's quite likely that cows, for example, either lack most or all of the capability for this abstraction, or if they have any capacity, it probably has a different character.

What's interesting and somewhat annoying to me has always been that many people actually privilege emotions even over abstract thought. There's the trope of the unfeeling artificial intelligence, which I think is an absurd concept. Emotions are fundamental. They provide motivation and context for cognition. No true consciousness could lack the equivalent of emotions. (But it could function quite differently — an AI wouldn't have the limitation of the path dependency of evolution and therefore how its equivalent of emotions interacts with abstract thought could be quite different. On the other hand, any AI we produce is likely, perhaps necessarily, going to be modeled on our own consciousness and we'd probably recapitulate evolution's versions of human emotions, anyway.)

While that's a speculative argument, the idea that other mammals (and less so but still somewhat true, all other higher animals) necessarily experience emotions is, I think, certain. I am very uncertain about how well my cat comprehends cause-and-effect and anything abstracted. I am not at all uncertain that my cat experiences happiness and unhappiness and anxiety and fear and social bonding attachment.

Which brings me to "love". There's all this history of myth, literature, and otherwise that privileges human love to the degree to which we might as well be claiming that it's as unique to humans as is, say, being able to comprehend general relativity. Which is just silly. I don't disagree that our version of love does, and probably must, have a particularly human characteristic. But I do disagree that it's so particular, and that characteristic so fundamental, that it means that what we call "love" cannot exist in any sense outside of human consciousness. What we call love has everything to do with our social nature as it relates to cognition and desire. Insofar as another animal has a different (or nonexistent) social nature, then their analogue of love will be quite different. The more their brains and social and reproductive organization is similar to our own, the more similar that feeling will be. And, it should be mentioned, the fact that we clump together several different kinds of social bonding into "love" means it's entirely possible that another animal might experience one form quite like we do and another form not at all, or very differently.

But, anyway, happiness, contentment, and euphoria (as well as anxiety and fear) are likely very basic emotions and likely common to all mammals. There's tons of experimentation and brain science that indicate this. It's just silly to have the default assumption be that animals don't experience these things.

I'm reminded of a conversation I had with an astrophysicist friend of mine. For a long time I took a hard position on what is knowable about what happens inside the event horizon of a black hole, on the basis that by definition, no information can escape it. If in principle we can know nothing at all, then I argued that we had no business talking about, for example, what it would be like for someone just inside the event horizon of a sufficiently massive black hole such that tidal shear wouldn't kill them. My friend pointed out one simple thing: Occam's Razor. While it's true that, in principle, we can't know and can never know what happens inside the event horizon, we have a self-consistent physical description of the processes that give rise to such a thing and those processes still apply within the event horizon. Put another way, absent some compelling argument otherwise, we should assume that physics inside the event horizon is the same physics as elsewhere in the universe (though extreme).

Absent some compelling argument otherwise, given the evolutionary history and brain physiology and displayed behavior and all related, we should assume that other mammalian brains produce pretty much the same basic emotions as human brains. Assuming the opposite is, as was asserted before, the much bigger and much less supportable assumption.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 2:03 PM on March 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm not concerned with the political implications of the argument. Politics shouldn't cloud critical discussions about animal or human behavior.

Except that, in our world, politics provides so much motivation to argue adversely that practically one must be on guard for it. There are lots of things that would never get argued except that rich and powerful people find it valuable for people to believe it. And the idea that animals are automatons is so useful to agribusiness that it is difficult not to regard it as a kind of useful idiot. They certainly have an interest in seeing it continued.

What you're describing is about the anthropologic idea of meaning and how it differs from one culture to the next.

No, I am describing the fundamental gulf between minds and how language is an imperfect sieve. Certainly, yes, the difference between you and me is a lot less than that between you and a cow, but it should not be underestimated. There have been times when I've seen two people arguing, and by mere chance being able to see just how they are arguing directly right past each other, thinking they see the other's viewpoint clearly while not, and being powerless myself to give them understanding I am left to sadly walk away (or, more frequently, change the channel). This happens all the time. Part of it is context, but some of it too is that language isn't as perfect a tool as we believe it to be.
posted by JHarris at 6:53 AM on March 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


...anybody who doesn't think a cow feels emotion has never been near pissed off cattle.

...Okay, I'll ask: there's a personal anecdote behind this, yes?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:13 AM on March 30, 2012


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