Ig Nobel Prizes 2009: If You Give a Cow a Name...


Call me Clarabelle. (© iStockphoto.com/SlowRunning)

I've always heard it's not a great idea to name any animal you plan to eat eventually. Start calling your rooster "Callixtus" and you may feel a bit guilty when you pick off his harem one by one for roasting and cast him as the centerpiece in your coq au vin.

Such sage advice probably protects livestock owners from forming petlike attachments to their animals. But what if your livestock isn't bound for the butcher (at least not anytime soon)? Are you free to name away? Turns out dairy cows are actually more productive than their anonymous sisters when they have a name.

That's according to the research of Catherine Douglas and Peter Rowlinson of Newcastle University's agriculture school. The duo claimed the veterinary medicine award in this year's Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony, a type of Nobel Prize alternative for utterly bizarre research. If you want to know more about the prize, ScienceStuff and Stuff You Should Know are covering the 2009 winners this week.

But back to the cows. By studying 516 UK dairy farmers, the Newcastle researchers found that named cows produced significantly more milk. A name seems to be a crucial element (or signal) in the human-animal relationship (HAR), which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: Human attitude affects animal behavior.

According to Douglas and the Chronicle, cows "feel happier and more relaxed if they are given a bit more one-to-one attention." And if they're more relaxed, they produce more milk: 258 liters more on dairy farms with named cows.

Hey, I guess that's what's in a name.

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