Katie Ellington/News Sophie Snively poses with Pretty Boy, her feeder calf and this year’s reserve champion beef feeder.

MOUNT VERNON — To a casual observer, cows may look like big, dumb farm animals. The people who raise them will tell you that’s utterly ridiculous.

“They’re definitely not dumb,” said 17-year-old Taylynn Morningstar, whose family showed five cows at this year’s fair. She pointed to one of the family’s market dairy steers. “He learned to untie himself. He’ll get loose if you let him.”

According to Morningstar, another of the family’s cows have figured out how to unlatch the gate. One of her friends has a steer that learned how to flip a light switch off and on with its nose.

“They’ve looked out at the barn and they just keep seeing lights flicker,” she said. “They think someone’s out there and no one’s out there, it’s just the cow.”

“That’s the main thing about cows, if they’re bored they’ll start playing with things,” said Taylynn’s mother, Jill. “They’re more intelligent than what people think.”

Sophie Snively agrees. Her family bought her feeder, Pretty Boy, at four months old. He escaped the first day.

“He found one little hole (in the gate) to get out of and we had to chase him for 45 minutes,” she recalled.

Snively said that Pretty Boy knows what he wants and what he doesn’t. If he doesn’t feel like moving, he’ll lock his knees so he can’t be led away. If he wants a snack, he’ll make sure Snively knows.

“He’ll look at me and put his head in his food bucket,” she said.

The key to channeling a cow’s intelligence into good behavior is constant training,

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Katie Ellington: 740-397-5333 or katie@mountvernonnews.com and on Twitter, @kt_ellington