Everybody needs friends -- especially baby cows. A new scientific study published in the research journal PLOS ONE shows that calves who are raised in isolation fare worse on cognitive tests than those who are raised in groups, suggesting that social creatures not only need to interact with others in order to develop successfully, but in order to develop at all. While many farmers separate their dairy cows in an effort to maintain herds more easily, research by Charlotte Gaillard of the University of British Columbia suggests that grouping baby cows together could actually be better for everyone in the long-run.
Gaillard's study relied on two groups of calves, all between the ages of four and eight weeks, who were divided into single and social housing and then given a series of tests. In the first test, cows were taught to associate either a black square or a white square with a reward -- food was hidden under one of the colored squares but not the other. Figuring out that one square meant food while the other didn't proved simple for both groups to grasp, but once the researchers reversed the outcome, the groups had different reactions. When the researchers moved the food under the square that hadn't meant a reward before, the calves who'd been raised alone had a difficult time figuring out what had happened. Calves raised together, on the contrary, picked up on the change much faster, which Gaillard attributes to the variability of living in an environment with others. According to her report, mixed social interaction produces a lack of predictability for the cows, which eventually makes them more adaptable.