Cows Really Don't Like Cowbells, Study Finds

At 113 decibels, the 12-pound bells can be as loud as chainsaws
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 26, 2014 8:13 AM CDT
Cows Really Don't Like Cowbells, Study Finds
Two cows fight during the traditional "Combats des Reines" ("Battle of the Queens"), a cow fight of sorts in Bussy-Chardonney, Switzerland, on April 13, 2014.   (AP Photo/Keystone/Jean-Christophe Bott)

Cowbell-clad cows are an iconic part of Swiss culture, but that doesn't mean the cows are happy about it. A new study out of the federal technology institute ETH Zurich studied 100-plus cows over a three-day period at 25 farms. Those who wore cowbells—some of which rang, some of which didn't—ate for shorter amounts of time and even chewed less, reports Swiss Radio International. Researchers say it's unclear which was the chief culprit: the weight of the bells (12 pounds) or the sound (up to 113 decibels). The decibel level of the bells is the equivalent of a chainsaw; the Swiss Accident Insurance Fund says human exposure to this level of noise for even eight hours a day would negatively and seriously affect health.

And since the bovine ear is even more sensitive than the human one, the bells might lead to deafness in cows, reports Time. But the head of the Swiss Countryside Union counters that the cows only wear "size 31" bells during ceremonial occasions—as little as once a year, reports the Local. He brushes off the idea of replacing the bells, which farmers use to locate their cattle, with GPS devices; farmers point out that reception in the alpine areas would be poor. The study didn't investigate whether the bells had any effect on milk production. (Meanwhile, check out why it's not uncommon in Switzerland to see cows hanging from helicopters.)

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