The Private Life of Cows

The Private Life of Cows

2010, Nature  -   12 Comments
Ratings: 7.99/10 from 83 users.

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

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12 Comments / User Reviews

  1. Pickle

    I advise y'all to watch the youtube channel "Think like a horse" by Rick Gore
    It will teach you a lot about the behavior of cattle animals....

  2. Alex

    'My Mission is to see just how intelligent cows are'.
    Cows have been domesticated and become entirely dependent on human for food, shelter et cetera. Checking how intelligent they are just shows how unintelligent the human is.
    This documentary has nothing to do with their private lives. As a introduction to basic cow farming for beef it's mildly interesting .

  3. wassay

    cows are very good pets they are very inteeligent

  4. dave

    "Cows are successful and wild animals have failed" !? Such annoying spin and twisting of reality from the BBC - again. MAN has successfully farmed cows and MAN has failed to farm other animals. Cows would otherwise graze with successful wildebeest, deer , etc. don't cha think ?.

    1. TDF

      That's debatable Dave. If you look at the organisms as a disposable gene's vehicles it's clear that domestic cows' genes have relatively won the battle over their wild relatives. With the artificial selection man has allowed domesticated cattle to vastly outnumber their counterparts in the wilderness, and to successfully propagate their genes. So in a way, by "allowing" us to domesticate them cows have made a strategic move in the evolutionary game.

    2. Geo

      It seems maybe stretching it a bit, to claim domesticated cattle's genes "won a battle" or such. Akin to saying berries in the bucket "won the battle" of the densest population profile of berries. Merely humans doing what they do. Others elsewhere have assigned "winner" status to domesticated corn as well, for humans doing what they do ...or did prior to Monsanto ruining as much as it can.

      Rather than just stating the obvious: Humans picked cattle to domesticate because they already had some characteristics that they desired. Geneticists or whomever decided they needed to spice their commentary up a bit, make it into something it really isn't; such as a battle. An actual battle would be more along the lines of man versus wolf.

      Now if one wants to say, "but technically one could say domesticated cattle did win..." Tell that to the slice of bovine on your plate!
      Now if the talkers simply claimed humans won, apparently that is too boring for them as well.

      Maybe it is just me, but I prefer to just leave it plain. Cannot relate to assigning battles and winning or losing to such things. Especially when the main factor, humans, can stop or change course, such as stop eating meat, and then the so called battle will not have been won at all, when the predators find no one protecting the herd.

      When I was a youngster, "bad" meant bad. Now it can mean "cool" and probably several other things. Besides the totally rad bad dudes, changing language is typically done by propagandists to confuse the public into thinking wrongly; to think something is true when it isn't. Propagandists should be fed to the wolves. Then people would understand each other much better.

  5. Generic smith

    well presented documenentary, would be quite enlightening for those from a non rural/farming background.

  6. GunnarInLA

    ...watched it and...although it is a well made documentary, it irked me in several ways, but...I don't want to needlessly hurt feelings, so...
    ...but I'll say this – if you expect to learn about "cows private lives" wont...

  7. Michele

    Some parts of the cow can be very tasty, others not so much.

    1. Brian

      I herd that.

    2. Geo

      That ain't no bull...!

  8. terence galland

    Mans real best friends wonderful creatures the Tinkerbells!