A man named Dave was driving through Millbrook, Ontario — a township home to about 8,000 people — when he spotted a herd of typical brown cows. So, he pulled over to check them out but quickly noticed one cow was acting a bit strange. Perplexed at first, he soon realized the reason for the cow’s behavior — and it was a matter of life or death.
It all started on that fateful drive as Dave made his way through the small township not far from Lake Ontario and the United States border. On his way, he pulled over to inspect a grazing herd of cows… and he saw something strange.
Now, Dave was no cow expert, but he had an inkling that it was not normal behavior for cows to scrape at the dirt while mooing and whining like this one cow was doing. Something, he knew, was amiss.
The cow — who, according to the tag on her ear, was named Flo — took long looks at Dave over her shoulder while she continued hoofing the ground and making noises of distress. He began to consider that the cow needed something. But what?
Flo had lush green pastures to graze in and a pond for drinking and swimming. As far as Dave could tell, she had the cattle equivalent of a penthouse suite. On closer inspection, however, Dave noticed something strange in the grass near Flo…
Hidden in the grass and on the wrong side of the farm’s fence was a calf — and he was lying helplessly in a ball. Had the mother cow, Dave wondered, simply been warning him to stay away from her baby?
It only took a moment for Dave to realize he was wrong: futilely, the mother cow sniffed her calf through the fence, and it was clear she wanted help. As he crouched down beside the fence, Dave realized just how much trouble this calf was in.
The calf was dry as a desert stone, a sign he’d been dehydrated and in the sun for some time. More concerning, though, was the fresh umbilical cord still attached to the baby. That meant the poor calf had been born earlier that day! But worst of all…
The calf was alive, but clearly scared, and he was lying beside an electric fence that had no visible gates. If Dave was going to help the baby, he was going to have to brave about 2,500 volts coursing through the fence’s wires — enough for some unpleasant shocks.
But Dave knew the stakes. A newborn calf needed milk and a mother’s affection; what’s more, if Dave left the calf where he lay, he could wander into the road and get hit. With little hesitation, he crouched down and went to work.
Picking the calf up and carrying him to a gate — wherever the nearest one was — sounded like a recipe for a bad back and an angry mama cow. The best option, as far as Dave could tell, was to gently nudge the calf under the fence, bit by bit.
Taking a few shocks in the process, Dave lifted the lowest wire of the electric fence with some kind of stick and painstakingly worked the calf underneath it. Unfortunately, the newborn calf didn’t offer much help in moo-ving.
Meanwhile, Flo responded positively to the operation, despite the shocks her newborn was taking from the electric fence. Dave understood that he needed to show he was taking the utmost of precautions with her baby…
After a delicate process, Dave gave the calf one final push — and he broke free from the shocks of the electric fence! Finally, he was back inside the pasture with his mother, who greeted her baby with some sniffs. But Dave’s mission wasn’t over yet…
First, he participated in what appeared to be a spontaneous reunion party. Flo was thrilled to have her baby back and Dave was equally pleased to have helped them out. After saying his goodbyes to the cattle, the heroic man headed towards the home he spotted on a distant hill.
There, Dave spoke with a farmer and his wife, who were the owners of the new baby cow. Unsurprisingly, they didn’t even know their sturdy cow had given birth! For them, there was work to do — so they invited Dave along.
Together, the farmers and Dave tagged the calf’s ear and used iodine to treat the still-dangling umbilical cord. Though the calf seemed healthy, the farmers feared he’d suffered some physical damage from the hot sun…
But much to the farmers’ delight, the young calf was in tremendous shape — though he probably had a killer sun tan! The calf, it seemed, had truly lucked out: what could’ve been a disaster turned out to only be a minor struggle, thanks to Dave.
In fact, Flo seemed to recognize the gravity of what Dave had done for her and her baby. As the mother walked away — led by her happy calf — she gave Dave one last knowing look as if to say “thank you.”
Though, not all the credit goes to Dave. With some powerful moos, fidgeting hooves, and clear signs of concern, Flo the cow communicated that something was wrong, in order to save her newborn calf. From what we know about bovine behavior, their movements say a lot more than you’d expect.
Dave easily registered the cow’s body language to mean something was wrong. But, after centuries of domestication, the pasture-dwelling creatures are still very vulnerable to danger. That’s why a strange farming trend has emerged combining paint, eyes, and cow butts. And while it sounds ridiculous, Dave can agree that it is actually pretty revolutionary in keeping cattle safe.
The practice is based on that feeling you get when you’re being watched, or worse, followed. It’s how we imagine a mouse must feel right before it’s gobbled up by a snake. There’s something about that feeling that brings out our caveman instincts…
When we feel threatened, we know one thing for sure: Whatever is out there watching us must not be very friendly. We rely on that instinctive feeling to get us out of danger, but it doesn’t always save us in time…especially when you’re huge, slow, and a cow.
Bovines aren’t exactly known for their swift feet or clever minds, which puts them at a serious disadvantage in the wild. Cows are, after all, one of the most popular animals on the market, and not just in the human food chain.
In Botswana in particular, cows are extremely popular among lions. All non-vegans can relate — there’s nothing quite as tasty as a juicy hamburger…which for African farmers is the whole problem.
You see, cows are such a favorite among lions in Botswana that they’re being slaughtered by these predators left and right. Farmers can’t keep up with the non-human predators’ taste for beef, and their herds are being diminished in the process.
At the end of the day, tenacious shepherds and smaller pastures can only help the cows so much. If these farmers want to save their herds and their livelihoods, then they have to get creative. Thankfully, in 2015, a team of researchers had an idea.
It was an…unconventional idea, to say the least. This team of researchers from Communications Biology had a theory that some farmers couldn’t help but scoff at: What if all it took for the cows to stay alive was a little paint?
Well, no, it didn’t involve disguising the cows as predators themselves, but close. Ecologist Neil Jordan’s theory was simple: Have farmers paint eyes onto their cows’ rear ends. Yes, the idea is rooted in science. “It seems like a bit of a wacky idea, but it does have a sound basis in animal behavior theory,” Dr. Jordan told ABC News.
Dr. Neil Jordan of the University of New South Wales and his team of researchers put their theory to the test by recruiting 2061 cows in Botswana between 2015 and 2018. Their theory hinged on one factor: the element of surprise.
Lions are ambush predators, meaning they rely on the element of surprise when it comes to catching prey. And think about it: If you came across a cow with a face painted on its butt, you’d be thrown off your game, right?
That’s what farmers are banking on. It’s what Dr. Jordan calls “psychological trickery”: The eyes “trick” the lions into thinking that they’ve been spotted by the cattle, when in reality, the cows are facing the other direction entirely, completely none the wiser.
The whole “eye” thing may sound weird, but it’s actually a pretty common evolutionary trait in animals. Different kinds of butterflies, fish, and birds have “eyes” on their wings, scales, and feathers that make them seem more alert to predators than they really are.
You know that creepy feeling of being watched we were talking about? We humans have used that to our advantage, too. In 2012, signs placed near bike racks in several countries featured a pair of eyes that successfully decreased the amount of bikes being stolen.
To test that all it takes is a pair of eyes to ward off predators, Dr. Jordan and his team of researchers split those 2,061 cows into three groups: 683 cows had eyes painted onto their butts, 543 cows had cross marks, and the control group of 835 cows were left unmarked.
The process of painting eyes onto the cows’ butts was as simple as it sounds. They used a paint stamp to imprint the eyes onto the cows, and used black paint on white cows and yellow paint on brown cows. Then, they waited…
And the results they collected were astonishing. The group without painted eyes saw 15 cow deaths from lion attacks, while the cross mark group saw four deaths. The experimental group, however, all survived without a scratch…which may leave you with an even bigger question.
With the cows no longer a huge part of their diet, what are the lions going to do? As it turns out, the cows weren’t the only victims when they were being killed by predators. The lions who kill are indirectly affected by their own predatory actions, and not in a good way.
“When lions kill cows, farmers lose money, and the lions are often killed in retaliation,” Dr. Jordan said. “We’re estimated to be losing about 20 times as many lions to these sorts of retaliatory killings…than are taken by the trophy hunting industries.”
According to Dr. Jordan, there’s a “culture of killing” when it comes to managing predators in Africa. That’s why he worked in conjunction with African farmers and the Predatory Conservation Trust. Saving cows from lions actually helps the lions in the long run…
Of course, the painted eyes experiment is still in its early stages. When it comes to that instinctual desire to hunt, all animals are likely to pounce on prey they think they can take. Still, you have to admit, Dr. Jordan’s theory is pretty genius. I mean, even humans are doing double takes on those peepers!