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Face it, Jimmy, cows aren't clever

"We know cows dream," said Jimmy Doherty at the start of The Private Life of Cows, "but what do they dream about?". What indeed. Grass? Bulls? Jumping over the moon? World domination?

Actually, my money's on that last one. Look at it this way: there are currently 1.5 billion cows on the planet -- that's one for every five humans -- and the figure is set to double in a few years.

Despite their outwardly dozy appearance, cows have been known to attack humans and even trample them to death.

If enough of them gang up and decide they're fed up having their udders hooked up to undignified milking machines three hours a day, we could be in real trouble.

Of course, a cow uprising would depend on how smart the animals are -- and all the evidence suggests they're dumb as breezeblocks.

They're way cleverer than chickens, definitely, and maybe a couple of IQ points above Geri Halliwell, but still hardly what you'd describe as deep thinkers.

But Jimmy is unconvinced. "Cows have had to learn a new way of life and that takes a certain amount of intelligence," he said. He has a point, up to a point.

Cows were once wild animals, yet man has successfully managed to domesticate them with ease -- although you still wouldn't want an Aberdeen Angus sleeping at the end of your bed, would you?

Jimmy and an animal scientist pal headed to a cattle farm to conduct an experiment to see if cows could learn to push a bell on a gate in order to get a food reward. Pavlov's dogs all over again, in other words, but with cows.

While the boffin was putting the chosen three animals through their paces, Jimmy tried to learn more about the inner workings of cows by fitting them with electronic collars, in order to monitor their social lives.

Yes, cows DO have social lives, as well as networks and cliques. Some cows get on better than others.

Violet, a new addition to the farm, used the fact that the three most popular cows in the herd were off learning to ring bells to build up her contacts.

She spent 51 hours out of four days moving from group to group, grooming other cows.

This basically involves literally licking up to everybody else. Frankly, though, unless the licking comes with fries, ketchup and onion rings, I think I'll stick to Facebook.

Meanwhile, back in the cowshed, only one of the three had figured out that bashing the bell with her head meant she got food.

The experiment was inconclusive.

But, hey: when was the last time you got to see a cow ringing on a bell, as opposed to a bell ringing on a cow, eh? Next week, Jimmy finds out if sheep can operate iPads.

Let's hope a group of super-intelligent cows never kidnap Noel Fitzpatrick -- aka The Bionic Vet -- and force him to do their evil bidding. Compared to the sedate adventures of Jimmy Doherty, The Bionic Vet is high-octane stuff. Think Animal Hospital directed by Transformers' Michael Bay.

Fitzpatrick takes limb replacement techniques pioneered in human surgery and applies them to animals.

He even uses the words "We have the technology", which is what the guy who turned Steve Austin into The Six Million Dollar Man used to say.

Last night, he fitted a custom-made metal implant to a young dog whose leg bone was being eaten away by cancer, thus giving it a new -- albeit limited -- lease of life.

It's fascinating stuff, but it comes at a price. The dog's owners spent "several thousand pounds" of their savings on the operation.

You wouldn't do that for a cow, would you?

STACEY'S STARS

THE PRIVATE LIFE OF COWS ***

THE BIONIC VET ***


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