Let’s face it: Farm animals have it rough. Sure, it’s all the problems related to factory farming, but it’s also just being, as one former president liked to put it, misunderestimated. Farm animals have fascinating abilities, quirky personalities, and many hidden talents that are grossly under-appreciated in our society. And now’s a good time to change that. Of course, there are millions of reasons to have a heart for the chickens, turkeys, pigs and cows, but here are five of my favorites.
1. Chickens may be the most romantically inclined of all farm animals. They create strong social bonds and, in a natural environment, males will call hens over to share their food, even picking up and dropping food repeatedly in front of a hen as an offering. Hens make devoted mothers, too. Research reveals that even before her chicks hatch, a hen will call to them, and they respond from within their eggs. John Webster, emeritus professor at Bristol University, said that the way a hen teaches her chicks what to eat, where to find food, and what to avoid “is pretty close to culture—and an advanced one at that.”
2. Studies prove that pigs are smarter than our canine friends. On video game tests (yes, pigs can play videogames using joysticks they control with their mouths), they can perform as well as primates. Like a cat’s whiskers, a pig’s snout provides her with heightened senses to navigate and interact with her environment. In fact, pigs’ noses are so sensitive that they can smell roots and tubers deep underground, a skill that’s been used for centuries to find truffles.
3. Science shows that cows are good at figuring out problems and take pleasure in finding solutions. Researchers who challenged cows to open a door to get food measured the animals’ neural activity and found that their “brainwaves showed the cows’ excitement [when they solved the problem]; their heartbeat went up and some even jumped into the air. We called it their Eureka moment.”
4. Did you know that Ben Franklin believed the turkey—not the bald eagle—should be America’s icon? “The turkey is in comparison a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America … a bird of courage,” Franklin said. His admiration was well founded. These birds are smart, fast, and indeed brave. And turkeys have something in common with peacocks, too. Ever seen a wild tom (male turkey) trying to romance a hen? With his tail feathers stretching up and wings jutting downward, he doubles his size in an attempt to woo the apple of his eye.
5. Need a fifth reason to have a heart for farm animals? Like dogs and cats, farm animals are individuals with personalities, preferences, and most importantly, a desire to enjoy life instead of suffer.
This Valentine’s Day, you can have a heart for farm animals by sharing this article with your friends and family who may not yet understand who farm animals are, and encouraging them to sign up for the Humane Society of the United States’ Meatless Monday free weekly recipes!
Paul Shapiro is the senior director of farm animal protection at The Humane Society of the United States. You can follow him on Twitter.