Is it worth the hassle to milk suicidal cows after they've plunged hundreds of feet to their deaths?

Josh Clark

There's something so peaceful about the image of a 2,000-pound dairy cow full of milk falling silently through the air between its leap from a cliff until the moment of impact on the rocks hundreds of feet below the precipice. In my imagination, I see them quietly, gracelessly falling end over end, legs jutting out still, eyes lolling about to take in the suddenly vast, groundless landscape. The whipping air is the only sound before -- KABOOM!!

Thank you to Xeno over at Xenophilia for posting an article from the Daily Mail about a sudden spate of cows inexplicably jumping from a cliff in the town of Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland. The locals point out that there aren't any natural predators in the area any longer, which underscores the mystery of the cows' jumps. It also means rescue workers have been making visits to the same spot every day to drag the cows' carcasses out of the valley to prevent groundwater contamination.

In three days last week, 28 cows met their end violently in the same spot at the valley. Which is odd, because as cows do fall from time to time, they don't tend to do so in such a cluster pattern. It isn't wholly unheard of, though. When it does happen, the farmers usually chalk it up to cows following a lead cow over the edge. Which leads us to a really important point: cows are stupid. This point leads us to a further conclusion: cows, being stupid, can't commit suicide.

The idea that a cow could commit suicide unnecessarily attributes a higher intellect to that cow. For a cow to take its own life, it would have to 1) be aware of its own existence, 2) be aware that something like falling from a high cliff could end that existence, 3) be capable of a desire to end its own existence.

For now, the view that cows (and most other animals) are too stupid to commit suicide is generally the line of the scientific community. Bestowing signs of a higher intellect onto animals is anthropomorphizing (not anthopogenizing) them. Not everyone is on board with the ideas that only humans, a few other primates and dolphins are capable of experiencing the secondary emotions (it's accepted that primary emotions like fear are inherent to just about everything with a brain) necessary to lead to a construct of existence. To these holdouts either animals can't communicate to us the emotions they do feel or we humans haven't yet conceived of the experiment that will yield definitive proof that a lab rat can experience things like happiness or dread.

The cows just fell, understand? If anyone asks you, they just kind of fell off the cliff.

More on HowStuffWorks.com: Is raw milk better than pasteurized milk? The 1897 Cow Abduction Hoax Do animals experience happiness?