By Julianna Kettlewell
BBC News science reporter
Farm animals have feelings which should be respected and catered for, academics at a London, UK, meeting have said.
Cows enjoy solving problems, according to researchers
They believe animals should not be dismissed as simple automatons - cows take pleasure in solving problems and sheep can form deep friendships.
Delegates from around the globe were speaking at the Compassion in World Farming Trust (CIWF Trust) conference.
They shared ways of exploring the minds of animals, as well as monitoring their suffering and alleviating their pain.
"The study of animal sentience is one of the most exciting and important in the whole of biology," said Professor Marian Dawkins, of Oxford University.
"My plea is that, when we make decisions and regulations about animals and campaign for them, the animals' voices should be heard and heard strongly."
For whatever reasons, we humans tend to draw a charmed ring around ourselves - we suppose we are the only ones that think thoughts and feel feelings.
We are happy to ascribe emotions to a tiny flailing inarticulate baby, while denying them in a sheep or even a chimpanzee.
Talk of animal sentience is often brushed off as fluffy and sentimental - not the stuff of science or the real world.
Our eyes only?
But perhaps we have been too hasty in our dismissal - perhaps consciousness does not peer through our eyes alone.
"They are not unfeeling objects," said Professor Marc Bekoff, of the University of Colorado, US.
Farm animals are more productive if they are treated well
"And what animals feel matters very much as they try to negotiate their lives in a human-dominated and often abusive world, in which they are mere pawns in our incessant and obsessive attempts to control their lives for our and not their benefit.
"I am incredulous that some sceptics actually question whether animals feel anything."
Now there is a growing weight of evidence to suggest animal minds probably do house emotions quite similar to our own.
Professor Donald Broom, from Cambridge University, studies the behaviour of cows.
His team put them in a special pen which had a lever that, when pressed, would release the cows into a field with lots of delicious food rewards.
The researchers found that when the cows finally "clicked" and worked out how to press the lever to reach the food, they showed signs of delight.
Non-human animals probably feel emotions like fear and anger
"When they learnt it they showed an excitement response," Professor Broom told the BBC. "Their heart rates increased and they were more likely to jump and gallop when they went down towards the food.
"It was as if the animals were saying 'Eureka! I've found out how to solve the problem'."
He continued: "We need to have a certain amount of respect for these animals, and I think most people have more respect for an animal if they feel it's aware of what's going on."
Being kind to farm animals isn't just a moral duty - according to the CIWF Trust delegates; there is something in it for us, too. Cows, for example, produce significantly more milk if their handlers talk to them gently rather than shouting and pushing them around.
"The handlers don't have to be really mean and hit the cows," said Edmund Pajor of Purdue University, US. "It's just a slap on the rump in the way that many farmers would. But the cows don't like it and it makes a real difference.
"It helps send a message about treating animals in a proper way. A number of dairy farms now have signs up saying 'please don't shout at the cows'."
Talk about animals' feelings is often brushed off as fluffy and sentimental
The famous chimpanzee expert Jane Goodall, in her opening speech at the conference, said we needed to re-define the way we viewed animals, both tame and wild.
Dr Goodall, 71, who has spent 45 years studying chimps in Africa, told the CIWF Trust delegates that humans and chimps were strikingly similar - that both shared a capacity for barbarity but were also capable of great altruism.
She described how she had seen chimps come to the aid of others who had been frightened, orphaned or injured, demonstrating "a care and compassion indistinguishable from our own".
She said: "We have to understand we are not the only beings on this planet with personalities and minds."
Here are some of your thoughts on this page:
Why is this new news? Surely, for anyone who has ever cared for a pet, the notion that animals are sentient, and experience joy, fear, pain and attachment in essentially the same way as man is simply common sense?
I am more astonished that "scientists" are surprised that animals may actually have feelings and emotions. Perhaps the blinkers are at last beginning to come off - it's long been the human animal that is devoid of emotion.
It disappoints me that so-called rational science is taking so long to accept the logic that if one animal - the human one - has emotions, then other animals probably evolved these mechanisms as well for exactly the same survival reasons. I suspect that the belief that humans are unique among animals is more based on religious mumbo-jumbo than on hard facts.
It's probably very difficult for some scientists to face the moral ramifications of animal emotions - but science is supposed to be about objective discovery, not selecting evidence to support our prejudices and trashing anything which makes us feel uncomfortable.
Karen Traviss, Wiltshire, UK
I've never heard anything so ridiculous. They are ONLY ANIMALS. People should stop living in cloud-cuckoo land. Does this joker think we should ask cows how they feel about being moved from one field to the next. They are unintelligent, basic biological machines and this ever-growing anthropomorphism is not helpful. It will only lead to growing divisions between normal, common-sense people and the dangerous animal-rights idiots in this country who fall for this kind of tosh. Let's not lose the plot!
Dave Roberts, Inverness
I think that in 100 years, people will look back in wonder that we could not recognize animal's feelings and view it as we now view historical figures who thought that Native Americans had no souls, or that slavery was God's plan. This blindness is the same factor that prevents us from recognizing the humanity of those with whom we go to war. In order to continue to believe in a moral world (that conveniently works to our advantage), we have to devalue those whom we exploit or kill for resources.
Pat Hakes, Safety Harbor, Florida, US
That animals have feelings and emotions is probably the most logical idea, and not just for farm animals. Of course they do or else they could not survive in this very competitive world. Emotions help determine ones actions and help make decisions: an essential tool for any living creature if it wishes to thrive. And if there are any doubts just look at animals play. Playing is a purely emotional behaviour. Personally I think western science needs a complete haulover... why should things exist only if proven? Obviously many things exist that we humans have no notion of.
Harm van Oudenhoven, Matagalpa, nicaragua
It says much about the primitive ego-driven nature of mankind that we are still having this debate. As an animal lover who has always had dogs, it incenses me that this question is still posed. My dog, Mausi, was kept in a cardboard box and beaten around the head and paws when she went to eat. I later met the dog warden at the local park in Birmingham who remembered picking her up and carrying her into the dogs' home as she was unable to walk!...When I found her in the dogs home, she would not let me touch her for six whole months and would be too scared to approach her food bowel. The psychological scars and memories were still there. This goes to show that animals do not have just short-term memories. Mausi's scars are ever-present. Why anyone should have treated her thus is beyond belief! It took a great deal of love and patience to help "heal" her. From this initial scared shy dog, a beautiful loving gentle companion has emerged. When I cry, she comes to me, she howls out of happiness, sleeps next to me laying her head on my breast..sentient is not the word! Animals have souls and we have a duty to respect them! Anything less is to deny one's humanity and one's own soul!
Yasmin Zimnowodzki, Birmingham, England
I'm afraid that our feelings of superiority are taught by our elitist religions. Fortunately, animals have no such absurd impediments.
Any thinking person owning or being with animals knows any animal has feelings. Just as humans 'feel comfortable' with others given the chance, animals will respond too. Whether it be in friendship or responding to kindliness given for a response. It is a shallow world indeed when humans go through life not respecting all living things. This field is enormous, but opportunities are there for all who wish to expand their lives. Just try and be kind. I was raised among the mountain ponies in Wales, farmed in the cold of Quebec, and now am retired in the natural beauty of Vancouver Island with bears, cougars, racoons and others tolerating us! Kindness and respect goes a long way given the chance!
Susan McDowell, Sooke, BC Canada
Of course animals are sentient beings! It is only the desire to maximise profit and fill the supermarket shelves which has led to animals being kept in abysmal concentration-camp style factory farms. Here they lead a bleak short life without natural sunlight, food pumped full of growth hormones and kept in unnatural conditions. The journey to the slaughter house entails further suffering - packed onto lorries, shamelessly squashed together and often, shipped abroad for slaughter in foreign abattoirs where their short lives are ended in barbaric ways...It is human arrogance which has led us to wrongly assume that only we are capable of emotions! Animals love, feel pain, joy, depression like us. What a shame that the meat industry chooses to ignore this fact in the name of profit.
Yasmin, Birmingham, UK
Having been brought up with lots of cats and dogs, the intelligence and emotions of animals has always been clear to me, but many of my friends don't understand. I want to see more articles like this!
elaine murray, United States
How egocentric of humans to think we are the only beings who can think, feel, bond with others, etc. As the "dominating" species, we have a responsibility to care for and protect the entire planet, including the other animals.
Sioux Komoroski, Tucson, Arizona, USA
As a student of veterinary of the University of São Paulo, I think this is an issue that deserves to be taken serious by all the scientific community; there are many studies discussing it and it's something that can be seen clearly in the daily work with the animals.
Katherine Colomba, São Paulo - Brazil
Anyone who has ever spent time around farm animals, wild animals or especially domestic pets should be able to tell you that all animals have thoughts, feelings and fears of their own. Those who tell you otherwise have obviously spent little if any time around animals and do not respect or care for others as much as themselves, it is ignorance! I have had pets and working animals in my family (and they are just that, part of the family!) all of my life and each and every one of them has and had their own personality and feelings. All are dearly loved and respected.
Those who describe animals as not having any thoughts or feelings come closer to that description than the animals they're trying to describe.
Edward Alberola, San Francisco, California, USA
I'm certain that animals have feelings and are capable of solving problems, I also believe that some animals (dogs) can read our thoughts. I have tested my dog for ESP and it responded instantly when I repeated a familiar phrase silently in my mind. They have capabilities we are just now learning about. They are also sympathetic to our worrying and try to comfort by offering to play. At the very least they will let you know they are here for you, you have their support.
People who say, "It's just a DOG!", relegate canines to the lowest form of animal life; when in reality they are kinder and more considerate than humans who condemn them. People who are abusive to animals are the "DOGS" (in the meanest sense of the word). What is hard to understand is THEIR ignorance!
James Martin, USA
I'm nearly positive that animals experience at least basic emotions, fear, excitement, friendship, etc. I'm all for treating them with respect. Doesn't mean I'm going to stop eating them though.
Phil M, Maple Plain, United States
Anyone who has trained or handled a variety of animals knows from experience that vertebrates, at least, have emotions and that higher vertebrates - birds and mammals - have personalities. Many years ago, Desmond Morris proposed an "Animal Contract" which I continue to think is a reasonable approach to animal protection.
Michael Vaughan, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
While I am pleased to read an article such as this in which people are encouraged to see animals as living, feeling beings, it is appalling to me to think that everyone cannot see that on their own. I do not understand how people can be so cruel and insensitive to others, how they can just go along in their lives without giving another thought to all of the pain and suffering they are causing just by not being responsible and cognisant of the effects of their actions.
Ali MacDonald, Somerville, Mass, USA
Humans are so embarrassingly egocentric. So many confuse an animal's inability to communicate in a human way with not having thoughts or emotions at all. Thank goodness somebody is doing something to show otherwise.
Betsy , San Marcos, TX U.S.A.
Bravo! I thought that when I was a teenager writing essays for school about my pet cows (I raised 2 calves as a 4H project) I was alone in ascribing thoughts and feelings to them but now about 60 years later I feel vindicated! Thanks.
Marie Morgan, Tucson, Arizona, USA
When I was living in Austria, and walking in the mountains regularly, I often saw cows noticing, watching, and seemingly 'commenting on' the many hang-gliders, and paragliders, landing in their fields.
Howard, Dawlish, Devon
I believe that animals should be treated with dignity and respect. We should not be cruel and we should be as "humane" as is possible. But at the end of the day, I want to see them on my dinner table as well. I do not believe these two thoughts are incompatible.
Greg, Pittsburgh, USA
The world seems to be divided between those who recognise that animals have feelings and emotions, and treat them accordingly, and those who deny this is true in order to justify mankind's cruelty towards these fellow creatures. Animals destined for food, fur etc. still deserve a reasonable quality of life. This may involve only minor changes to the way they are kept and treated but these small changes might mean everything to the animals. In the end, it is up to the individual how he/she treats an animal. Personally, no amount of money would persuade me to be cruel.
Lindsay Talbot, Liversedge, United Kingdom
I find it enormously puzzling that extreme suffering only gets widely questioned if it is the suffering of members of the human species. It is extraordinary how many people just accept the appalling treatment of such a vast number of animals.
Dr David Pearson, Lancaster, UK
Absolute undiluted, consummate rubbish. This article says more of these "researchers", then about cows or pigs. "Their heart rates increased and they were more likely to jump and gallop when they went down towards the food. It was as if the animals were saying 'Eureka! I've found out how to solve the problem'." Does one need to add anything to this?
Jim Davies, Istanbul Turkey
The study about cow delight in problem solving does not support its conclusion. One must simply assume that overt behaviours of an excited type are indicators of delight (in this case, in problem solving). But this does not matter. How do I know that another human being also is sentient? Answer: it acts like I do when I'm excited, and it is built like I am neurologically. However, this is sufficient to support sentience in non-human animals as well. They act like we do when excited, frightened, etc, and the neurophysiology of most mammals matches the basic structure of our own, including those structures necessary for consciousness. The question is not are non-humans sentient, but rather just how much like us are they?
Matthew Ferkany, Lansing, MI, USA
It is self-evident, is confirmed by common sense, observation, and science, and is another strong reason to go vegan.
Louis Novellino, Middletown, New Jersey, USA
On the front page of BBC today is the story of the starvation of helpless Terri Schiavo and how compassionate academics want us to understand the tender feelings of cows. Once you lose your moral bearings any illogical thought becomes possible.
Alan, Baltimore MD , USA
I have personally witnessed one sheep guide another blind sheep towards the gate when they were being herded together in a flock to be moved to another field. If that isn't having feelings I don't know what is!
Ann Eggleston, Hexham UK
I worked on a dairy farm and at this one period, when the cows were being kept in the stanchions in a long row, there was this first cow that would hold her head in the water trough to let the water run over for the longest time, till the alley was full of water all of the time. Then one day we found that the drinking cup for the cow at the end of the row did not work. As soon as we noticed this and fixed it, the first cow no longer held her face down to cause it to over flow... I was amazed.
Maureen J Valenti, San Angelo, Texas, USA
Like the authors, I am staggered by the colossal arrogance of the majority of the public who regard animals as no more important than table legs. It is also one of the things that has driven me away from religion, as the idea that there is a magic dividing line that allows humans to go to heaven and animals not is no more intelligent than their previous assertion that the world is flat.
We are happy to attribute feelings to our pets, but for the animal we eat we create an entirely new set of rules. After all what sort of creatures would we be if we ate animals with feelings?
Henry Reichhold, London
I can't speak for cows or pigs. But the look of satisfaction on my cat Riley's face when he was finally able to sit outside on 'his' lawn in the sunshine yesterday said it all!
Rob Davis, Telford Shropshire
The majority of British farmers could have told the researchers exactly what they discovered. Most British farmers treat their animals with respect and know plenty about animal sentience. If the British public wasn't obsessed with cheap food the large farms owned by faceless companies would not have such a grip on the production of animals for food in this country. Animals on British farms enjoy stricter welfare controls than in many other countries but we continue to import cheaper food from other countries, making it harder for British farmers to keep animals in the way they know is right. Of course pigs, poultry and cattle should spend their days outside in a stimulating environment but will the consumer pay the price?
Emotions are what make humans human. Animals cannot feel jealousy, sympathy, or anger. I don't find a cow getting excited over food unusual. Pavlov's dog salivated when food was coming. There's nothing written here that we don't already know about animal instinct.
Welcome , Milwaukee, Wisconsin USA
Animals are stupid! I saw this group of animals only the other day attacking a lone animal of their own species for no other reason than he was a slightly different colour! In another instance I observed a large group of these animals stockpiling food only for it to rot rather than sharing with other animals nearby who were starving. We should think ourselves lucky we're not so dumb and we can invent things like nuclear weapons to protect ourselves.
Steve Gunnis, Worthing, United Kingdom