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Anyone who has lived with a dog or a cat can attest to how intelligent and quick these animals are. We always stop to marvel at how our cats know when we’re upset and need a snuggle or how our dogs can learn tricks and perform incredible feats. But what if we told you that dogs and cats aren’t the only intelligent animals out there.

Rather, you might be surprised to know that some of the most interesting, clever and intuitive characters live tucked away in cages, barns, and out of sight. I know first-hand just how smart farm animals are. During lunch breaks at work, I have played fetch with a turkey, taught pigs how to “sit” and “roll over,” and even had a rudimentary game of football with a group of hens.  There is so much about these charming creatures that people don’t know, or don’t really bother to find out, so it’s time we celebrate them for the individuals that they are and the talents they possess. Here are six of the most amazing facts about farm animal intelligence and behavior.

1. They Have Complex Vocabularies

Ever been called bird-brained? Take it as a compliment! Clever birds like chickens and turkeys have a complex language to go with their hierarchies, using over 30 different vocalizations for different things. The subject can range from warning other birds about a certain predator (with different “words” for things like hawk, snake, and fox), to discovery of a new food item, to gently soothing a worried friend. This allows the group to keep safe, as well as to take advantage of new resources like shelter and food, working together as a team.

2. They Are Capable of Reasoning and Forming Opinions

One example is how chickens use their reason, and logic to their favor comes in how they choose mates. Roosters will entice hens with food (sound familiar) as a form of courtship that does not immediately lead to mating. This means that females not only take their time to evaluate the males’ behavior, but they also must form an opinion about various males — and their reputations for providing food — and then commit these various experiences to memory. Only then does the female express a mating preference.

3. They Can Be Cunning and Deceptive

We often think that the ability the be cunning or deceptive is something that animals aren’t capable of because it requires the ability to reason and use forward thinking. Farmed animals, however, have exhibited the ability to do both of these things.

For example, pigs have been known to “lie” to their friends when they know where a secret supply of food is. In fact, these pigs were observed not only lying to their friends about where the food supply was, but they also went back to get more for themselves!

A group of clever sheep in Yorkshire, UK, even managed to outsmart their humans by learning roll on their backs and get under cattle grids to sneak their way into local gardens.

4. They Can Show Empathy for Others

Hens who think that chicks are in danger – even if they themselves are fine – become distressed and frantic. They only calm down when the babies are “safe,” suggesting that they care about the well-being of other members of their flock aside from their own safety.

Mother cows in the dairy industry become extremely distressed when their babies are taken away from them and have been known to mourn and cry for long periods of time. Other cows have been noted coming to comfort the grieving mother and trying to help calm her down, demonstrating their understanding of her suffering.

5. They Can Outsmart Children, Primates, Dogs, and Other Animals often Viewed as Smarter

Pigs are one of the smartest animals in the world. They are quick learners and have a sharp mind that, when kept engaged, can allow them to master skills that even chimpanzees and dogs struggle with. One famous example is a study involving video games, in which pigs bested their primate rivals.

Cows also have great at problem-solving skills, and once they master a test, they often celebrate by kicking up their heels, wagging their tails and having a raised heartbeat.

6. They Have Amazing Memories

Sheep can remember the faces of 50 others, and this amazing recollection can span over two years. Scientists believe they may even be able to recall a sheep’s face and remember them even if they are not “reminded” of what they look like.

Cows have also been known to hold grudges against people or other animals that have wronged them. Similarly, chickens can learn and remember how to play games and also never forget special types of foods that they like.

More Brilliant Animal Superstars

This is just a small sampling of the many ways farm animals can demonstrate their intelligence. Most people find it hard to believe that farm animals can be just as smart as the animals they welcome into their homes. Perhaps this is because they’ve never been told differently or perhaps it is because they use this as an excuse to justify eating animal products, either way, we can all stand to set aside our preconceived notions and see farm animals as the individuals they really are.

If you’re in need of a few more examples of intelligent farm animals, check out these amazing farm animal ambassadors:


  1. Little Miss Sunshine – this ex-battery hen knows how to count, and she can identify different animals and herself.
  2. Esther the Wonder Pig – this lovable sow turned her Dads vegan and inspired the launch of a farm animal sanctuary.
  3. Clarabelle – the ex-dairy cow remembered that her calves are usually stolen from her, so she hid her newborn from sanctuary staff to prevent it happening again.
  4. Alfie – the clever pet sheep who detected a tumor in his caretaker’s breast and saved her life.


Share this post and the stories of animals and inspire others to get to know farm animals as someone’s, not somethings!

Lead image source: Morgan/Flickr