Researchers Figure Out How Cows 'Talk'

They uncover what 'moo' really means
By Shelley Hazen,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 18, 2014 8:24 AM CST
Researchers Figure Out How Cows 'Talk'
A cow and her calf are shown.   (AP Photo/Toby Brusseau)

The ability to communicate between a mother and her offspring isn't just between humans. Scientists in England have found that cows share the same bond with their calves and get their message across through their moos, the BBC reports. "A calf certainly knows its mother from other cows, and when a calf blarts, the mother knows it's her calf," confirms James Bourne, a farmer who's been around cows since the 1950s. Scientists spent 10 months recording cow conversations in two free-range herds and another year analyzing the data, explains a press release. They found that "each calf and cow have a characteristic and exclusive call of their own," one researcher explains. The calf's call in particular communicates its age, but not its gender.

Researchers heard two maternal calls. The first is in a lower frequency, used when the calf is 3 to 4 weeks old and close to its mom. It's usually quiet and made through a closed, or almost closed, mouth. Bourne describes it as "almost talking." The second has the desperate quality of a mom who's lost her kid—because she has. A much louder, higher-frequency call occurs when the calf is out of sight and "she's distressed because he's away from her," Bourne says. A calf's moo means only one thing—milk. Researchers hope to get even more insight into the moo, as it could provide clues about when cows are distressed and improve their care. (In other animal news, scientists recently explained how birds lost their teeth.)

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