The Intelligence Levels of Farm Animals

Domesticated animals are especially adept at relating to people.
Domesticated animals are especially adept at relating to people. (Image: Jupiterimages/Pixland/Getty Images)

Most farm animals have lived alongside humans for centuries. The process of domestication often means a loss of the abilities animals have in the wild. However, many domesticated animals develop new forms of intelligence as well as the ability to relate to and understand humans. Farm animals are generally at least as intelligent as dogs, though the intelligence of farm animals has frequently been underestimated.


The intelligence of chickens is frequently underestimated. This is because the behaviors exhibited by chickens in captivity is frequently maladaptive or even indicative of psychosis. Dr. Joy Mench, a professor of animal science, argues that chickens are highly social animals that can remember as many as 100 other chickens. They communicate using dozens of unique vocalizations. Many farm-raised chickens, however, live in small coops that do not allow them opportunities for social interaction or proper exercise. When chickens become bored, they may self mutilate.

Chickens are highly social and the term "pecking order" originates with them.
Chickens are highly social and the term "pecking order" originates with them. (Image: Jupiterimages/ Images)


Like most other farm animals, sheep live in social groups. In the wild, they are prey animals and derive protection from flocking together. Lambs are born at an advanced stage of development and have many of the same behaviors and capabilities of adults. Despite this precociousness, ewes are well-known for the extensive care they provide to their lambs. Animal expert and psychologist Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson argues that, while sheep are born with numerous instincts, adult sheep actively teach life skills to lambs. Sheep can bond closely with people and can be trained to do many of the same tricks as dogs.

Ewes provide lots of care to lambs.
Ewes provide lots of care to lambs. (Image: Jupiterimages/ Images)


Cows are renowned for the strong bonds they form with other animals, including humans. Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson reports witnessing cows mourn the deaths of other cows, even shedding tears. Cows also understand cause and effect. For example, they can learn to push a button to receive food or water. Cows live in packs with a leader and a hierarchy. Leaders of cow packs tend to exhibit good social skills with other cows and high intelligence rather than size or strength.

Cows live in hierarchical packs.
Cows live in hierarchical packs. (Image: BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images)


Animal behaviorists are increasingly recognizing that pigs are highly intelligent. In fact, many families keep pigs as pets and find that they are more intelligent and trainable than dogs. Pigs dream and have been witnessed listening to and seeming to enjoy music. They communicate with one another via a vast array of vocalizations and have excellent memories. In a study by Dr. Stanley Curtis reported by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, pigs were taught various tricks using balls and other objects. They still remembered the tricks three years later.

Pot-bellied pigs are popular pets.
Pot-bellied pigs are popular pets. (Image: Jupiterimages/ Images)

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