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Cows Choose Leaders Based on Intelligence, Confidence, and Experience (Don't you wish we did?)

Intelligence, confidence, and a sense of purpose are the primary determinants of leadership in groups of grazing cows, according to new research. Herd leaders are also selected according to the animals' experience, with many older cows emerging as leaders when the herd moves to a new feed site. The research shows that a herd of cows will consistently follow a few leader cows when exploring new areas, although the scientists could not identify any obvious signal from the leader. The findings suggest that cows follow leaders who are more adept intellectually and socially as opposed to those who exhibit "bullying, selfishness, size and strength." According to the study authors, "We found that the same individual was recorded as the very first animal in 48% of movements toward a new feeding site and could therefore be identified as the 'leader'." The study appears in the November 2005 edition of Applied Animal Behavior Science and is based on observations made by a team of French researchers of 15 two-year-old grazing cows.

1. "Consistency of Animal Order in Spontaneous Group Movements Allows the Measurement of Leadership in a Group of Grazing Heifers," Applied Animal Behavior Science, Nov-2005 

2. "Study: Cows Excel at Selecting Leaders," Discovery News, 12/22/05

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