The Intelligence of Farm Animals

Rescued animals at Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary

This past Sunday, October 5th, I attended the Poplar Spring Animal Santuary’s seventeenth Annual Open House and Fundraiser in Poolesville, Maryland. This 400 acre non-profit sanctuary provides refuge to farm animals and wildlife in need. This was one of the main reasons I started volunteering there last year! While helping clean the animal enclosures, I really got to know their individual personalities. Many of the animals come from abusive and abandoned situations. As my way of helping the sanctuary, I chose to sponsor Josie (the blind sheep I am pictured with) who is smart and has such a sweet disposition. Though Josie could not see, she somehow could sense when I was there. I was fascinated to learn how smart farm animals really are. Similar to The Gentle Barn and Farm Sanctuary, Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization who offers care, rehabilitation, and permanent sanctuary for neglected, abused or abandoned farm animals. In addition to informing the public regarding farm animal and wildlife issues, they promote the compassion and humane treatment for all animals. All sanctuaries are a little unique in their own way. In the case of Poplar Spring, they are run entirely by donations from the public and do not receive any county, state, or federal funding. Donations go directly to help feed and care for the animals, and are fully tax-deductible as allowed by law.

Me and Josie, the blind sheep I sponsored at Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary

Me and Josie, the blind sheep I sponsored at Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary

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Visiting Poplar Springs Animal Sanctuary made me think how much attitudes have changed about farm animals. In the past ten years attitudes and laws have changed greatly regarding farm animals. The old perception that farm animals are dumb, mindless and feel no emotion is just not true. In late 2013, David Crary wrote an article for Huffington Post about ‘The Someone Project’ campaign that aimed to highlight farm animals’ intelligence. There is a great deal of evidence that pigs are as smart and sociable as dogs, however, why is one species given affection and respect whereas the other faces mass slaughter and becomes bacon, ham and pork chops? The ‘Someone Project’ aimed to highlight research depicting pigs, chickens, cows and other farm animals as more intelligent and emotionally complex than commonly believed. The hope was more people might view these animals with the same empathy that they view for dogs, cats, elephants, great apes, and dolphins. In addition, the article interviewed some very credible people. Bob Martin, a food systems expert at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, said he developed an appreciation of pigs’ emotional complexity while serving recently as executive director of the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production.

“You have to have ideological blindness to think these animals are not intelligent.I hope we go back to an agriculture that works more with the animals biological and psychological needs and nature rather than against them. The trouble is, we’re used to seeing them as herds. You see 1,000 cows or pigs and think, `Oh, they’re all the same.’ But there are actually huge individual differences.” ~Bernard Rollin, a Colorado State University professor who teaches both philosophy and animal science

According to Farm Sanctuary, cows become excited over intellectual challenges, chickens can navigate mazes and anticipate the future, and sheep can remember the faces of dozens of individual humans and other sheep for more than two years. There is existing research suggesting that campaigns such as The Someone Project may make headway in influencing consumers. In one recent study examining doubts that people might have about eating meat, University of British Columbia psychologists Matthew Ruby and Steven Heine concluded that the animal’s level of intelligence was the foremost concern. Interesting, right?

In addition, groups such as Compassion OverKilling and Mercy for Animals have come to the forefront with their undercover videos recording many cases of abuse in factory farms. No one realized the misery and abuse that goes on in the factory farms and I would go far as to say some or most of the employees may have become desensitized to this sort of behavior. ABC’s undercover investigation and graphic videos made inside a huge New York dairy operation made the public stop and take notice. In this plant, cows never go outside, have the ends of their tails cut off in painful procedures without anesthesia, and are seen being abused by one employee who hits a cow over the head with a wrench when it refuses to move. In fact, another ABC World News Report article about the COK investigation won the Genesis Award. World News with Diane Sawyer had the exclusive report — “Plant Closed by USDA Supplied Beef for In-N-Out Burger” — featuring Compassion Over Killing’s undercover investigation inside a dairy cow slaughter plant in California. After reviewing COK’s footage, the USDA shut the facility down citing “egregious inhumane handling and treatment of livestock.” This is the power of media used in the right way!

So, want to know how you can help?

Here’s a great video showing the reunion of Karma and her calf at The Gentle Barn. Did you know cows have a maternal instinct equivalent to that of a human?

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