On the edge of understanding: cow communication

Deb Hill
Managing Editor

I always thought of cows as quiet creatures, contentedly chewing their cud. Apparently I was wrong. 

Although I grew up on a small farm we didn’t have cows, so my knowledge of their tendency for constant discourse is limited. We had goats, horses,  chickens and bunnies. Some of those could be loud at times, of course, but not very often.

Now I live near cows, and I am learning they are loud, a lot. For four or five months out of the year, we are surrounded by cows when ranchers move their stock onto leased pastures next door to ours.

To me, the joy of rural living includes listening to nature. Mostly what I listen to are the birds -- meadowlarks, robins, goldfinches and bluebirds are my springtime soundtrack.

I also enjoy the “silence” when the birds go quiet -- the shushing of wind through the grass, the flutter of aspen leaves, the hum of insects. At night, aside from the occasional owl, the silence in our rural neighborhood is profound.

Until the cows arrive.

Who knew cows had so much to say? From morning until sundown, and on into the night, cows converse.

 Sweetly modulated voices are not, apparently, favored by the cattle crowd. Instead they hoot, blare, bellow and cajole with vociferous abandon.

This year our bovine neighbors were particularly operatic in their opinions.

“Nooooo,” one or another would wail.

“Impeeeaaach,” came the response from half a mile away. 

“Rude,” another insists. “RUUDDE.”

Listening to their lamentations day after day, week after week, I grow worried. 

I expect happy cows savoring pastures thick with sweet, wild grass and relaxing in the pine shade on long summer days to murmur softly. 

Instead I’m surrounded by the mournful bellows of wounded psyches.

What are they going on about, I wonder. Is something wrong? I pick up the binoculars and strain to see a particularly loud cow. Is it stuck in the fence? Did she lose her calf? Is there a predator? Do they hate Hillary?

Mostly I never can figure out which cow is doing all the shouting, or why. But I am convinced there is a point to this rhetoric, if I could but understand the language.

I guess I need an interpreter.

Or the Angus version of the Rosetta stone.


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