Cows, they contain multitudes. They use different moos to express different feelings, they experience separation anxiety without their best cow friends, and as teens, they can be rather touchy. A new study — reported by the Guardian — indicates that cows experience “emotional confusion” during puberty, their adolescent hormones subjecting them to mood swings, what else. One day the cows feel shy and just want to be left alone in their rooms to plumb the depths of existential horror; the next, they’re nuzzling up to strangers with apparent enthusiasm. How relatable.
With an eye toward improving cattle farming practices, the researchers — Nina Von Keyserlingk, a professor of animal welfare at the University of British Columbia in Canada, and her former student, Heather Neave — set out to form a fuller picture of dairy cow personalities at various life stages. At one month, three months, one year (roughly the onset of puberty), and two-and-a-half years, they corralled their cows into a test arena and observed how they reacted to new people and things, and how they behaved alone. They then scored the cows for boldness and eagerness to explore, per the Guardian.
As calves and as adults, the researchers found, cows were relatively stable in their comportment. But around 12 months, look out: the teen cows became erratic and unpredictable, entering “a period of inconsistency in personality traits,” Von Keyserlingk told the Guardian. Some cows became shy and solitary as teens, while others became more gregarious and attention-seeking. This, the researchers reportedly believe, has everything to do with puberty hormones swirling around their young brains, possibly making some cows less risk-averse and more thrill-seeking.
By the time the cows started lactating, though, their moods appeared to level out again. Which is to say, the volatility was just a phase, and they grew out of it.