Cows have best friends too

Here’s fascinating research reported in the Daily Mail:  Cows have herd mates and the bonds can affect yields, according to UK researchers.

Krista McLennan, an animal welfare researcher at Northampton University measured heart rates and cortisol levels of cows to see how they cope when isolated, penned with their best friend or with an unfamiliar cow. “When heifers have their preferred partner with them, their heart rates are reduced compared with if they were with a random individual,” McLennan said. “Keep an eye out for those cows which like to keep their friends with them. It could have some real benefits, such as improving their milk yields and reducing stress.”

I’ve noticed this myself. Just the other day, the herd was walked past a paddock of two-year-olds and I watched one of them gallop up to sniff noses across the fence with two herd members. The amazing thing was that their ear tags revealed they were all born in the same year. What I’d assumed was a two-year-old turned out to be a three-year-old late-calver conveniently paddocked with the younger ones. Old friends were catching up!

8 thoughts on “Cows have best friends too

  1. MMM I saw your post on Queensland Country Life. Producers, and animal lovers need a bright spark like you in their midst. Fantastic that you are showing the human side of farming. There is so much negative stuff on the net about animal welfare, its really refreshing to read about your live on the land. Great Blog!!


  2. Hello, I’d just like to comment on cows having an association with others. I live in the far western parts of Qld, a long way from your farm! Years ago we were involved in the BTEC programme, & all cattle were tagged with numbered tags to identify reactors etc. For a long time after, we would notice consecutive numbers coming through the race, or just standing together in the yard or paddock. From brands & other tags, we realised that these were mothers, & their daughters, & even grandaughters that kept together. Quite amazing as we yard wean the calves, then they spend months in a weaner paddock, then the heifers more months in a secure paddock so that bulls are kept away from them before they are joining weight & age. Then they are returned to the herd to become breeders & it seems that they can always recognise their mothers. Because of this, when drafting cattle for sale, I will try to put cattle that have been weaned & paddocked together before trucking. They would be so much more contented with mates around them, wouldn’t you think?


  3. I genuinely love animals so maybe you can help me understand something. My family is from a farming background, I left when I was 17, now 53. My sister has a small farm with cattle. I’ve been in her paddocks with her feeding her cattle. She even names them and worries if one doesnt seem to be socialising with the other, she really cares about how they feel and if they’re happy. Then when the time is right she sends them off to be killed, they come back boxed, go into her freezer, then she eats them. I cant understand how you can care about an animal knowing its going to be killed and eaten. The post about the cattle forming long term bonds proves they have intelligence, recognition, feelings. I’m not critical at all so please dont misunderstand me. I’m just wondering how
    producers deal with the process?


    • Hi CC,
      Dairy is a little bit different because we want our animals to enjoy long lives! The truth is that I don’t know how your sister does it either. See my post about just this topic at

      On the other hand, it’s helpful to remember that her cattle have much less stressful lives and deaths than they would have endured in the wild. You only have to look at a wildlife doco to see bison suffering during drought or being devoured alive by predators to realise that this is a much more humane alternative. And, as Sam Neill says, we were made to eat meat.


  4. I have seen it many times when a cow is left without her mates they get quite upset.i even saw when a cow ‘s friend died near her she was there licking and pushing her to get up i had a few tears in my eyes,these animals arent dumb like many people think they are.One old girl even pushed her way thur a gate to get to her friend who was been taken to the stock yards.


  5. Thanks MMM, Mark Zuckerberg is being honest with himself about the food he eats. If I had to kill every animal I ate, I would have been vegetarian long ago, rarely eat meat as it is. I’d be the poorest farmer cause I’d want to keep them all, so they can hang out with their family and friends.


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