To find out, Lange’s team conducted a series of trials involving both physical touch and vocal communication with 28 heifers, i.e., female cattle that haven’t yet produced offspring. Each cow underwent a total of six massages, which were accompanied by either live vocal communication or pre-recorded messages, in alternating order.
“As the study was conducted in Austria, we addressed the heifers in German,” Lange explained. “Translated, the phrases were: ‘Hello my dear. That’s a good cow. Yes, you are a fine girl. Such a nice heifer. Yes, this is nice. Yes, you are doing well, you can relax.’”
Researchers then used heart rate monitors and video equipment to observe both internal and external reactions over the course of each trial.
The cows appeared to indicate that they took pleasure from all interactions—and who can blame them? Researchers noted an increase in neck stretching, a behavior associated with enjoyment, and a decrease in ear flicking, conversely associated with annoyance.