How to speak Moo-lishWhile humans have words to express our feelings, a cow’s vocabulary is also extensive. Mooing is one way bovines “talk.” You might think that one moo fits-all but not so. The soft chortle-moo of a mother talking to her baby is distinct from the growling-moo of one bull challenging another which differs from impatient-moos of cows waiting to be fed. Continuous moos at 2am in the morning usually means a mother is calling to a missing baby
Mooing typically means distress because cows only vocalize after non-verbal communication fails. The best way to speak “Cow” or “Moo-lish” is to learn body-language. Is her head lowered, did she swing her horns at you, or did she kick? I’ve provided five more obvious cow-language behaviors that I’ve observed.
1) Saying, “Hello.” When two cows meet they stretch their necks and sniff the other. Humans can mimick that behavior by holding out a hand just a few inches in front of the cow’s nose. Cows are currious and will often step forward to sniff the out-stretched hand. Let the cow come to you, don’t break the spell by reaching at the last minute to touch her nose. Think about it, when you first meet someone, would you like them to stroke your nose? Didn’t think so. Be polite, let the cow make the first move.
2) “I don’t want to talk.” Some cows want to socialize, some don’t. If you’ve said, “Hello,” and the cow swings her head at you as if she was brushing you off, leave her alone. She doesn’t want to talk right then so say hello to another cow.
3) “I like that.” Cows love back scratches. Even the meanest cow will dip her head to the ground and stand still if you scratch her back. She especially enjoys scratching in those spots her horns can’t reach like the top of her tail or the middle of her back. Cow’s hides are thick and a deep scratch or massage will win her heart.
4) “More scratches.” Besides back-scratches, cows love chest rubs. Topper, one of my oxen, will search me out when I’m in the field. He’ll rest his head on my shoulder while I rub his brisket.
5) Kicking. All cows will kick if startled. Everyone has a “blind-spot” and with cows it’s behind them. When you walk up to her, don’t startle her. Say, “Hi Bessie, I’m behind you.” Then move to her side so she can see you. If you don’t want to be kicked, don’t startle the cow.
There are other ways to communicate with cattle and the best teacher is observation. Come to the farm on April 13th from 11am-3pm to start you cow-language education. You can watch a cow, try any one of these techniques and even learn new ones. My cows will be grateful if you know their language, but they will also be pleased if you bring carrots.
(photo courtesy of S. Laughlin)