One Life: Farm Animal Day

01 October 2021

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By David Neale, Animals Asia's Animal Welfare Director

Each year approximately 72 billion ‘traditional’ farm animals,  50-160 billion farmed fish, 43-75 billion farmed crayfish, crabs and lobsters, and 210-350 billion farmed shrimp and prawns are raised / caught and slaughtered to provide us with our food. 

Many see these vast quantities of farmed animals simply as a vital source of protein, in reality these are individual sentient animals with their own emotional capacities and cognitive abilities worthy of further exploration.


Cows are social animals, they develop complex relationships with each other, form friendships and enjoy being with their friends.  They will actively seek individuals out and develop social networks and hierarchies within their herds, with older individuals and individuals that have grown up together performing more social interactions than others.

Cows are good problem solvers, enjoy learning, and have excellent long-term memories.

Cows talk to each other in their own language, they have distinct individual voices and vocalise their emotions, expressing pleasure, frustration, excitement and fear, anger and stress. Their distinct vocalisations are also used to regain contact when they become isolated. 

Cow mothers care deeply for their calves and will nurture and protect them and stay close as they grow into adulthood, and mothers will work together to look after each other's babies in a nursery just like we do within our own society.


Hens have sophisticated communication skills which have evolved over millions of years to help them to share information and protect each other from harm. 

They live in complex societies, with stable social hierarchies. Each individual being able to recognise each other and to understand their relative social status within the flock. 

They develop individual friendships and show a preference to spend time foraging, sleeping and preening with these friends, staying close together and synchronising their activities.

Hens have good parental skills with an understanding of their young and a desire to protect them from harm. This starts before the chicks are born with hens ‘talking’ or purring to their eggs, and the unhatched chicks will ‘talk’ back to their mothers, letting them know if she needs to move the eggs around the nest to ensure the chicks stay warm within the shell. 

When the eggs hatch, mother hens are affectionate and dote over their babies. When chicks stray from view, they have specific calls to beckon them back to her side. If the chicks take too long, or mama hen suspects something has happened to them, she will have a physical reaction, where her heart rates and temperatures both increase demonstrating an understanding of her chicks and the predicament they may be in.


Pigs are very social animals, and are happiest when they are living within a group of pigs. They live in large herds, form close friendships, like to stay close to their friends and are less stressed when with a friend.

Pigs communicate with over 20 of oinks, grunts, and squeals for different situations, from wooing their mates to expressing hunger, and to convey information about their emotional states, such as whether or not they are happy to see another pig or not.

Pigs are capable of learning from each other socially, copying the complex behaviour of another pig and understanding their objectives and intentions.

Pigs are highly competent at spatial tasks such as mazes, and this serves them well when foraging. They have a good memory and can remember where and which site had the most food when given a choice of returning to a food site.

Pigs can individually recognise over 30 other pigs within a herd, and they can remember these individuals for many years even if they have not seen them for a long period of time. Pigs can also remember solutions to complex problems many months after they have learnt such solutions such as how to perform certain actions to receive food rewards.

Pigs are also capable of assessing what information another pig knows in relation to them with regards to how to perform a task with a reward. They can then choice to follow the individual with more information than themselves to receive the same reward.


Crustaceans have exoskeletal sense organs which include hairs sensitive to sound, touch, odour, taste, humidity or temperature, and often two compound eyes and one or more simple eyes that cover a wide field and are connected by nerves to the brain. They are thus well informed about their surroundings.

Lobsters have compound eyes, as do most arthropods, but these are stalked to provide a broader field of view. Like nearly all multicellular animals crustaceans have a central nervous system consisting of a brain, a ventral nerve cord and ganglia (concentrations of nerve cells).

The nervous system of crustaceans allows them to not only experience pain and suffering but in addition makes them very much aware of their environment.

They have the capacity to recognise and remember painful or threatening objects or situations and try to avoid them. They also have the ability to learn and to discriminate. They show understanding and memory both of places and of other individuals, for example by forming social hierarchies when a number of animals are kept confined together. 


Fish  possess complex emotional and cognitive abilities. Many species learn socially by watching other members of their group carry out tasks and copying their actions. Certain species are known to use tools to help them to catch their prey or to open tough shells. They cooperate with each other and with other species to perform tasks such as hunting and avoiding being hunted.

They develop social relationships, they like to play and they communicate their intentions and their emotional states. They can be crafty and deceptive, they are good planners, have an understanding of fairness and they have excellent memories.

Some species have also demonstrated the ability to count by clearly distinguishing between different numbers of objects, a skill once thought to be limited to humans. Others are even known to develop their own ‘social rules’ of behaviour and reprimand individuals that break these rules, and certain species are known to ‘apologise’ to others they have harmed. 


Octopuses learn easily, including learning by observation of another octopus that has been previously trained to perform a task. They can solve problems, as when they remove a plug or unscrew a lid to get prey from a container. They use shells for shelter, and rocks and jets of water in a way that could be classified as tool use. They have been found to play and to have individual responses and individual temperaments. 


In behavioral experiments, cuttlefish are known to reject easy meals while holding out for better food in the future, a form of delayed gratification and forward planning. They are also capable of learning whilst still inside the egg, gaining essential knowledge with regards to which animals to hunt for food when they hatch.

This is just a snapshot of the complex emotional and cognitive capacities of some of the species that are farmed, often in deplorable conditions to be slaughtered and eaten. Not only does our treatment of these sentient animals have a negative impact on the lives of these individuals, the system of agricultural intensification and mass production has led to widespread environmental damage across the globe.

On this ‘farm animal day’ please take a moment to consider these animals as individuals, consider their complex emotional capacities and cognitive abilities and the complex and richly rewarding lives they would choose to live within if given free choice.

Read more:

One Life: Turkeys | One Life: Cows