Honors College

Document Type

Honors Thesis


Animal and Veterinary Sciences


David Marcinkowski

Committee Members

Robert Causey, Mark Haggerty, Pauline Kamath, Clare Thomas-Pino

Graduation Year

May 2021

Publication Date

Spring 5-2021


Cattle see things differently than humans, but it is known that cattle can identify humans based on past encounters. For this study,I hypothesized that Holstein heifers are capable of differentiating between humans solely based on facial characteristics. Six Holstein heifers from J.F. Witter Teaching and Research Farm were trained and tested for 4 weeks using pictures of objects and faces, which the cattle have never seen. A fifth week of testing took place 6 weeks later to examine their long-term memory. Each heifer participated in 10 trials per day using a Y-maze configuration, with 2 photo options to choose from. The heifer received approximately 1/2 cup of sweet calf grain from the bowl if they chose correctly. Week 1 compared a blank, white paper and Caucasian face. Week 2 compared a tree trunk and Caucasian face. Weeks 3–5 compared the African American and Caucasian faces. At the beginning of each session, the correct picture was illuminated with a portable light to help the heifers focus. Data was analyzed with IBM SPSS statistical software, using Chi square procedures to compare the correct choices by heifer, week, and presence of light. Results showed that the heifers’ choices improved significantly by week (p=.007) and with the use of the light (p=.013). The percent correct varied greatly between heifers, ranging from 50% to 80%. One heifer often displayed an 80% success rate with and without the light, supporting the hypothesis. This suggests that Holstein heifers can differentiate between human faces, but it depends on their individual focus levels.