The business of raising animals for food has changed dramatically over the years. Today large industrialized farms are the norm, mass-producing billions of farm animals every year for human consumption. In 2013, there we 32.5 million cattle and 112.1 million hogs brought to slaughter. Every day, 23 million chickens are killed in the United States and over 9 billion yearly.
The cognitive abilities of farm animals are often overlooked or completely ignored as they’re seen as profitable commodities. Society has been conditioned to see livestock as “food” and not as animals that are capable of feeling the way one might believe their dog or cat does. This skewed perception is just one of the many reasons large industrialized farms see no repercussions for the inhumane treatment of billions of farm animals every day.
Intelligence is accepted without much hesitation in domesticated animals like dogs and cats that are capable of learning tricks and being trained for specific tasks. Most people are aware of intelligence in wild animals, too. For instance, elephants are capable of recognizing humans and other elephants they haven’t seen in years, while dolphins and chimpanzees are self-aware and capable of using tools to achieve a particular task; but what about the animals raised and slaughtered for food?
Here are a few things you may not know about farm animals:
1. Cows Live Complex Emotional and Social Lives
Cattle (cows calves and heifers) are deeply emotional animals and form strong complex friendships with others. They live in hierarchies and have been known to hold grudges against one another for extended periods of time. Dairy farms frequently have cows exhibiting signs of mourning and distress after their calves are taken from them. A study of dairy heifers at Cambridge University found that they were capable of solving complex problems and found pleasure in doing so.
2. Chickens are Masters of Communication and Cognition
Chickens have exceptional recognition skills and communicate with one another through 24 distinct cries. They use these vocalizations to communicate to others when food as been found, a predator is near or to voice their anger and frustrations. They’ve also been known to show empathy and exhibit self-control.
3. Pigs are as Smart as Your Dog
Pigs are extremely social animals with highly sophisticated cognitive abilities, more so than dogs and the average three year old. They’re capable of recognizing their own name just weeks after being born and learning tricks. Some pigs have even been taught to operate levers to obtain food and to turn on the air conditioning when they’re too warm.
Now That You Know…
Controversy over the ethics of eating meat has occurred for hundreds of years. It’s easy to eat meat when one doesn’t associate what they’re eating with a sentient being capable of emotions (not to mention many spare themselves the sight of how farm animals are killed).
Animals on factory farms are just as likely to experience feelings of contentment fear or pain and they seek to avoid suffering the same way others do. It’s time society begins to recognize that farm animals are conscious beings capable of living long enriched lives, if given the opportunity. It’s imperative to bring attention to the horrendous conditions animals experience living on factory farms and to give a voice to the animals being raised for mass consumption that have no say in the matter. Please share what you have learned and encourage others to think of farm animals as friends, not food! After all, are these creatures really all that different from your companion animals?
Lead image source: Mercy for Animals