In respect of social bonding and friendships, a study from the Austral University of Chile found that cows behave like their wild ancestors, aurochs; wild cattle which inhabited Asia, Europe and North Africa. Domestication has not removed from their memory how to instinctively protect the group from predators. Cows have a lot of strategies to achieve this. An important part of the process is that bonding between cows creates a stronger group and bonding is achieved by allogrooming or mutual licking. Allogrooming is very commonly seen in domestic cats and discussed quite often with respect to that species. It is not often that we discuss it when referring to cattle. But it serves an important purpose and shows us that cows have a sophisticated social life and society.
They have a very interesting social life and they have friends.- Ana Strappini, a co-author of the research project.
They found that mutual licking was more common when the individuals were of a similar age. The researchers decided that this was because they had grown up together and were friends. They also found that some cows tried to ingratiate themselves with others through licking but often they were rebuffed. Some cows play the role of peacemakers and mediators to help prevent conflict between the animals to further support cohesion within the group. This desire for cohesion serves a distinct purpose, namely survival.
There is a hierarchy but the result of it is untypical in cows. Rather than group animals being submissive towards a dominant lead animal, they found that with respect to cows, the senior animal appeared to take a noblesse oblige approach to their role by licking her subordinates far more than she licked herself. It is suggested by the researchers that the purpose is to maintain group stability and cohesiveness.
The authors of this project want people to regard cows as far more special than they think they are. A lot of people regard cows as objects with little going on in the brain. This is a mistake. Although cows do not have predators in the sense that they did in ancient times when they were wild animals, they do have to survive in a human world and the system that people burden them with.
There is one last point that the researchers wish to make. Modern farms tend to split up groups of cows and regroup them periodically. The research indicates that they should stay together as much as possible because they are friends and it is better for their health. This is an objective that farmers strive for in the interests of financial profit.
P.S. Cows not uncommonly form friendships with other species and I am thinking of farm cats: