The Private Life of Cows

2010, Nature  -  59 min Leave a Comment
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If you've ever wondered what cows are really thinking, then The Private Life of Cows is the film for you.

Humans have co-existed with cows for so long that most of us take them for granted, even though our demand for the meat and dairy products they produce continues to grow. The majority of us probably believe that all cows are the same, and that they're one of the least intelligent species on the planet. The filmmakers seek to challenge these preconceptions by conducting a series of intriguing behavioral tests.

The first test centers on intelligence. Inspired by the Pavlovian dog experiments of the early 1900s, the filmmakers create a device containing a large bell and a food dispenser. Can the cows become conditioned to ring the bell in order to receive their reward? If they succeed in making this connection, it would prove that the species possesses some level of intellect.

Common sense dictates that individual distinctions must exist within a worldwide population of 1.5 billion cows. In one of the film's most entertaining segments, we're introduced to a female cattle breeder in Britain who spends each day in the company of over a hundred cows. She claims that each of them have their own distinct personalities. Some are gentle and approachable. Others are aggressive and solitary.

Additional interviews and experiments expand our understanding of this enigmatic species. We gain a deeper appreciation for their sense of self-awareness, the process by which they interpret commands and respond to fear, and how wild cattle behave differently than the domesticated variety. All of these concepts come together to create a complex psychological portrait. This is particularly essential for the figures who work to breed and herd them.

We're also given a brief history of the species, an outline of the genetic modifications they've undergone throughout the years, and a review of their most unique physical characteristics. For instance, we learn that cows possess an astonishing field of vision which gives them the ability to detect potential predators from any direction.

The Private Life of Cows is filled with a wealth of surprising tidbits, and it's presented in an irresistibly playful tone.

Directed by: Jude Ho