No doubt animals have feelings and thoughts, or at least instincts.
Who would deny that this little guy is having one of his best evenings of the summer?
Whether that vaguely uncomfortable sensation of need in his body provoked the thought “Hungry, I better go find mother”, or the instinct to follow his nose toward the familiar warmth of mother’s scent, the end result is the same: mouth to teat, milk to belly, belly filled, uncomfortable sensation replaced with contentment ensuing.
After eating his fill, he might be thinking “Good time for a nap!”, or feeling rejuvenated and energetic from his evening meal, maybe it’s time to find some pasture mates, nip at each other’s hooves and frolic. Or maybe just enjoy a full belly and stay where the comforting scent of mother is warmest and thickest.
Certainly animals are subject to sensations. The heartiest of cows and horses still need at least a three sided structure in their pasture within which to shelter themselves from driving wind. Horses and deer will bed in snow midway down a lee slope – far enough from the crest to avoid the worst of the wind, high enough from the bottom to avoid the coldest air that rolls down the slope and pools in valleys.
Some say cows are so sensitive that they can predict the weather. If cows are lying down in a pasture, it will rain; if standing, clear weather will prevail. Or, most often observed, some standing, some lying down – no doubt a reliable indication of partly cloudy weather 😉
Habit requires thought, or at least conditioning. Some evenings require a walk into the pasture to lead the herd back to the barn for milking. Some evenings, bags swollen, all the girls come back to the barn anticipating the relief milking will provide.
It is undeniable that cows have personalities. Some will wait patiently to be milked, some will kick and thrash about. Some seem to enjoy the pressure of the farmer’s head against their belly as he sqauts and applies the milking machine. Some seem rather modest and indignant to have their nipples washed, tolerating daily milking only for the relief it provides.
If large enough, a herd of cows will develop social cliques. Even within a small herd, cows have best friends, and those individuals they will avoid. Just like people, they are naturally attracted to some, and develop aversions to others.
It’s probably impossible to say if cows enjoy sunshine more than a cool gentle rain, or if they find the shape and texture of some clouds more pleasing then others. Their sentiments may be restricted to keeping in proximity of those individuals to whom they are drawn, finding where in the pasture the combination of moisture and sun causes the grass to grow most sweetly, where a shelter, natural or man made, provides the greatest comfort from the elements.
Cast this way, it’s pretty evident that when you get down to basics, cows are not much different than people: they like their bellies comfortably filled, they enjoy the company of their family and neighbors, and shelter from the elements.