Cows are known for their gentle eyes and peaceful expressions, but if you’ve been around them long enough, you’ll know they have a whole range of emotions.
When one of a cow’s fellow herd-mates pass, they’ll even sometimes look a little sad.
Do cows cry or truly feel sadness, though?
I wanted a deeper answer than my gut would tell me, so I researched and found the truth about cows, crying, and sadness.
Cows do cry but not in the way humans typically think of as crying. When cows become upset, frustrated, or frightened, they will often cry out with a high-pitched noise. This cry is distinct and different for each cow. Learn which special call belongs to which cows to better care for your bovines.
Crying and sadness is a serious yet interesting topic.
There are enough questions out there on it, we wanted to build out an answer guide for you.
Read ahead for the details.
Do Cows Cry?
Cows make distinct sounds based on their identity and feelings, and some of these are related to stress and sadness.
Learn what causes each cow to make these distinct cries.
This cry is their emotional reaction to let you know they do not understand what is happening.
They also cry if they sense danger, especially mother cows.
Certain cries could alert you to predators in the pasture with your cows.
Cows are very observant creatures with both external and internal cues.
You may notice there are times when it looks like a wet tear is coming from your cow’s eyes.
While crying can’t be completely ruled out, it is more often a sign of infection or irritation in the eyes.
It’ll need to be checked by your local veterinarian.
Cows are susceptible to many eye issues and can even suffer from allergies.
Cows are very receptive to their environments and have different ways to show you how they are feeling.
Each cow has its personality and a variety of ways to express itself.
Do Cows Feel Sadness?
Cows provide several signs showing they can process and react through a large emotional range, including sadness. These signs include a loss of appetite, dehydration, ears laying back, isolating themselves when they would normally be among the group, or giving a loud holler.
Related: Can cattle safely drink Gatorade?
No matter how each individual cow shows it, all the study results point to cows as emotional animals.
All this comes from a study completed by the Animal Behavior and Cognition Organization.
Not only does the study show cows are capable of basic emotions, but it also shows they can build off of those responses into experiencing more complex emotions as well.
This was shown in their ability to have an emotional reaction to learning new things.
It’s a great read for anyone wanting to understand more about cows and how they process their emotions.
This would also be a great resource for farmers and ranchers to see how their cows might be processing their environments and emotions.
Cows have many physical signals when they are experiencing sadness and other emotions.
You’ll notice the eye-whites change depending on how they’re feeling.
If you see more of the white in a cow’s eye, they might be sad, scared, or frustrated.
If you see less white and more dark coloring, then the cow is more at ease and feels safe or happy.
Another outside physical feature to determine if a cow is feeling sad is its ears.
If a cow’s ears are pulled back and not relaxed, it is a sign they are not feeling well, distressed or sad.
If their ears are relaxed, it typically means all is well in their world at the moment.
Cows hang their heads a little bit when they are feeling sad.
They are usually very alert animals about taking in their environments.
If they seem to be a bit forlorn and droopy, it may signify they are experiencing feelings of sadness.
Each cow is a bit different, and knowing their traits will help you know if they are feeling sad or if this is just a personality trait certain cows tend to have regularly.
Related: Do cows like listening to music?
Why Does It Look Like Your Cow Is Crying?
Many people think a cow is crying when it simply has dry eyes or an eye infection. Tears aren’t used to express emotion like they are for humans. Bowed heads, ears back, isolation, and lack of appetite are more accurate signs of sadness.
If your cow is acting mostly normal but has discharge from the eyes, it’s time to call your bovine vet.
If you have ever driven near a farm during calf weaning time, you would know what it sounds like to hear a cow cry.
All moms have their unique cry only their babies can understand.
This is the sound they make when they know something is changing.
They don’t understand why they are separated from their calf, so they cry out to let you know.
This only lasts for a day or two.
Then accept what is happening and return to their lives of comfort in the pasture.
Cows are very aware of their surroundings.
When watching cows in a pasture, they can alert you when something is about to happen before you see it.
Cows can cry out if their calf is in danger from prey animals such as coyotes or bears.
This cry will sound different than their sad cry.
It almost has a tone of fear and panic.
Getting to know your herd is vital in determining their cries.
This is helpful in the dark hours of the night when you hear them cry and are looking for the source of why.
Do Cows Experience Pain Like Humans?
If a cow has stepped on something out in the pasture and has an infected hoof, it could cry out and physically limp.
This cry is a reaction for them to let this emotion out and a cry to you.
Cows also cry out when they are excited or joyful.
If you walk into the pasture with a feed bucket or have a tractor with a haybale attached, you might be greeted with a stampeding cow coming at you as she cries out with excitement.
This again will sound different than a panicked or sad cry.
There are times when you will notice it looks like water around your cow’s eyes.
Cows’ eyes are very important to their well-being and have defense mechanisms in place when issues arise.
If cows are in tall grass for long periods, they are prone to infections.
This can cause the eyes to water as their bodies keep the pollens and bugs out.
In the heat of summer, when flies become rampant, it also causes cows’ eyes to water in a state of defense.
There are many steps a farmer can take to protect the eyes of their cows before they might become blind.
Are Cows Sad When They Are Alone?
Cows are naturally social animals and prefer to stay in herds for protection and social needs. If a cow has isolated herself from the group, it is usually a sign something is going on. This could mean she is getting ready to calve, sick or injured, or experiencing sadness or grief.
It is up to the farmer to get to the root of the problem and get the cow back up with the group.
Cows also enjoy being around positive social interactions with people.
They can feed off the energy you present to them.
If you come out swinging and yelling, they will react by being jumpy and frightened.
If you give them a safe environment and work with them slowly, they will react the same.
They not only attach themselves to other cows in their group, but they will also grow social bonds with the people around them the most.
Cows can show signs of sadness if the person they are used to taking care of them moves away or is ill and unable to come out and care for them.
This falls back into them being creatures of habit and preferring their surroundings not to change.
They build trust with their people, and they show this trust by walking beside you anytime you are in the pasture with them.
They are also curious animals and are always looking for a treat.
Cows, much like humans, will have times when they need some extra attention.
They are not only emotional animals, but they also are physically designed to react to touch.
They have multiple receptors in their skin and muzzles and can perk up with a good scratch behind their ears.
This does take time and relationship-building with your cows.
I wouldn’t recommend just walking into a pasture with cows who aren’t familiar with you and trying to scratch them on the head.
If you notice unusual symptoms and potential signs of illness, contact your veterinarian to come out and take a look at the cow.
It is always better to treat any sickness as early as possible.
Are There Ways To Keep Your Cows From Crying?
To prevent cows from crying, spend time with them, keep them in the same groups, make sure they have food and water, and give a little scratch behind the ear when the opportunity presents itself.
You will never be able to have a cow who never cries, any more than a human who never cries.
There will always be good days and bad days with the ability to have and express emotions.
Pay attention to your cows and know when their cries are signs of sadness or fear.
Often they will be able to alert you to something you did not see.
Cows have a way of sensing when something is awry in their surroundings.
Listen to their cries and work on assessing and fixing the situation where they will feel more at ease.
If you are out in the pasture and you catch yourself talking with your cows, don’t worry.
This is also a perfectly normal part of being a hands-on cattle farmer and animal lover in general.
Happy cows make happy farmers.
Do Cows Cry Before Slaughter?
Cows may cry before slaughter, but it’s not because they understand what’s going on. When you put a cow into a packed trailer or unload it into a slaughterhouse, there is a good chance they will cry out in panic as a negative emotion to the unfamiliar and often hectic surroundings.
This is their emotional reaction to the new environment.
They are not able to comprehend what is about to happen.
They only know this is not the pasture they are used to being in, where they are used to loads of space and open grass fields.
The farmers who make up the cattle community want to ensure the highest standards are being met for the humane treatment of their animals.
Many animals become more like pets than part of a business venture.
Do Cows Feel Pain when Slaughtered?
While it is impossible to know 100% if they do or do not feel pain (as we are not cows), there have been standards to make this process as humane as possible.
The USDA monitors and enforces the Humane Methods of Livestock Slaughter Act passed in 1958.
This Act ensures animals are slaughtered humanely and without painful conditions.
If for any reason, they find slaughterhouses are not following the guidelines set, they can shut them down immediately.
As a farmer, choose where you have your cattle slaughtered when the time comes.
Not all slaughterhouses are the same.
Do your research to ensure you find the places holding themselves to the highest standards.