Most people learn that cows go “moo” before they hit the age of 3, but did you know that those “moos” are actually part of an advanced social system that cows have?
Cattle will moo for various reasons, they could simply just be curious of something that is a bit unusual in their normal environment, or trying to find a friend. Cows also become more vocal when they are in estrus and looking to breed. Research found that there is a 78% increase in vocalization when they are in heat. Of course, like people, cows will also start complaining if they get hungry.
People often misunderstand cows to be unintelligent, but that is far from the case. Cows are able to learn simple tricks or commands. They communicate within themselves not only with vocals, but by reading body language, tails, and ear signals of their companions. Cows are even able to differentiate between individual humans. Cows have a social hierarchy as well. The herd tends to follow animals with more bold personalities, or older cows with more experience.
There has even been a study done on cow communication, with some interesting findings. The University of Nottingham and Queen Mary University of London did a 10 month study that focused on cow communication. They used acoustic indicators to help monitor frequencies and variables of the cow’s vocals. They were able to identify two distinct calls from a mother to her calf. If the calf was near, the mother would use a low frequency moo, as if she was having a conversation with her child. When the calf was out of her sightline, the mother would have a much louder and much higher frequency call to try and find her calf. Calves had a specific sound they would emit to signal to their mothers they were hungry and needed to suckle. The study was involved enough that researchers could discern which pair of calf/mother was speaking due to the voice or call. Each pair had their own distinct sound with the communication. Researchers are hoping to further develop this study to see if they can find indicators of stress to encourage better animal care.
“Do you speak cow? Researchers listen in on ‘conversations’ between calves and their mothers.” University of London
McCahon, Brad. “Cow Communication.” ABC
“Why do cows moo?” Dairy Moos