How a P.E.I. dairy farmer can tell what his cattle's outlook on life is

If you've ever wondered what animals are thinking or how they're feeling — researchers at the University of British Columbia are getting a little closer.

'If they want to cuddle me they're optimistic. If they run to the back to the pen they're pessimistic'

A recent study published in the journal, Scientific Reports is suggesting cows are able to exhibit signs of optimism and pessimism from a young age. (Submitted by Jon Raymond Dykstra)

If you've ever wondered what animals are thinking or how they're feeling — researchers at the University of British Columbia are getting a little closer.

A recent study published in the journal, Scientific Reports is suggesting cows are able to exhibit signs of optimism and pessimism from a young age.

Outlook on life

You can kind of tell which ones are the optimistic ones … they're the first ones to the feed bunk.- Bloyce Thompson

The study also suggests that a cow's inherent outlook on life can predict the coping mechanisms it develop for stress.

Bloyce Thomspon is a third generation dairy farmer in Frenchfort, P.E.I.

Thompson has been a farmer for about 15 years at his dairy farm where he has about 250 cows, 85 of which are used for milking.

"You can kind of tell which ones are the optimistic ones … they're the first ones to the feed bunk," Thompson said.

The more pessimistic cows tend to stay at the back of the pen, he said

Thompson said his daughter is confident she can tell from the moment a calf is born what its disposition will be.

Thompson's daughter explained to him, "If they want to cuddle me they're optimistic. If they run to the back to the pen they're pessimistic."

There is a DNA test that can be done to test the temperament of an animal and it's usually the ones with a low or mild temperament that tend to have an optimistic outlook on life, said Thompson.

If they test high, Thompson said, "it will usually pass on to the cow's offspring."

'You can kind of tell which ones are the optimistic ones … they’re the first ones to the feed bunk,' says dairy farmer, Bloyce Thompson. (Stephanie Brown/CBC)

Stress in the barn

The optimistic cows also tend to be the ones who cause the least amount of trouble in the barn, he said.  

Pessimistic cows are often more nervous and don't tend to handle the stress of daily farm life as well, said Thompson.

"Those are the ones you're going to have problems with sickness and stuff like that," he said.

It's a similarity shared between humans and cows, said Thompson.

"When you're stressed all the time your immune system is depleted a little bit," he said.  

But modern barns are "designed for a stress-free environment."

They often have bigger stalls, wider alleyways and more bunk areas to help all animals — especially those which are easily stressed — to be as comfortable as possible, he said.

For Thompson, the research is just verifying what dairy farmers "have always known."

More P.E.I. news  

With files from Island Morning