Home Tips & Tricks Tending to Your Cows: What Does it Mean When They Moo?
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Tending to Your Cows: What Does it Mean When They Moo?

by Judy Knowler

Cows are herd animals with very complex social structures. They interact socially through various means, the most common being mooing.

A cow’s moo holds much information based on various scientific research. A cow’s moo may be a signal to find the calf or mother, find the herd, lure a mate, indicate they’re hungry, show contentment, raise the alarm in case of danger, or express pain.

Individual cows have distinct voices, making every moo unique. Research shows that these individualized calls make it possible for a cow to identify itself to its herd and, more importantly, a mother to her calf.

Cows can also use other means to communicate, such as grunting and wagging their tails. For this piece, let’s look deeper into cow moos, what they mean, and how you can respond to them, if necessary.

The Reasons Why Cows Moo

Cows moo for various reasons. Some of the most common ones include the following:

Finding their Way

Cows are social animals that form a strong bond with fellow herd members. Since farmers buy and sell cattle frequently, they’re often lost from the herd and moo to try and locate them.

When moved into a new environment, cows may also moo to connect with the new herd and make new friends.

Finding a Mate

A recent study shows that moos from a bull are used as pick-up lines to lure a cow to mate. The cow agrees to the romance by responding to the moos.


Cows let the farmer know it’s their time to eat by mooing. They repeatedly moo until they’re provided with hay, grain, or other food.

Expressing a Need

Cows may also need or want something else, which they’ll communicate by mooing. This moo mostly sends a message to the human farmer and not to other cows in the herd.

Finding the Calf or Mom

Cows moo and cry the most when trying to find their calves. It is common for a mother to moo for days on end if she’s separated from her calf, especially after birth.

Calves will also moo when trying to find their mom or when they are hungry.

They Need to Be Milked

Cows are often milked at regular intervals. If the farmer skips on their schedule, the cows may moo, indicating that they’re distressed or uncomfortable and need to be milked.

Stress or Discomfort

A cow under stress or in physical discomfort will moo persistently, asking for help. The stress or discomfort may be due to simple problems such as extreme temperatures. Alternatively, they may have been caught on something, or the herd is too big, and they’re being squeezed.

The Different Variations of Cow Moo Sounds

Cows release a unique moo for various purposes. It may be to express when they’re hungry, fussing around, moody, searching for something, or in danger. These vocalizations will also vary within the herd.

One study identified three moo calls, distinguished as low-frequency calls (LFCs), louder high-frequency calls (HFCs), and calf calls.

According to the study, cows produce low-frequency calls near their calves, especially within three to four weeks after birth. These moos are often quiet and made with closed or partially open mouths.

Cows produce louder high-frequency calls when separated from their calves. The calves will often be away from visual contact, with the moo preceding nursing.

Calves make calf calls when separated from their mothers and want to suckle milk.

These calls are individualized, especially between mother-offspring and her cattle. Therefore, each calf and mother will have a unique and exclusive call.

Researchers in the study also discovered from an acoustic analysis that these calls convey some specific information. For instance, louder, high-frequency calls made by the mother to her calf may also contain information about their age but not gender.

The findings of this research corroborate theories farmers have had for a long time that cows speak to their calves in a unique language. A calf knows its mother from the herd, and the mother can identify its calf from others.

There are other noticeable variations in cow moos that fall outside a mother and calf relationship. They include the following.

Calling for a Mate

This is one of the most annoying calls between a bull and a cow. It often begins with a low moo preceded by a series of higher-pitched “ooo’s” with pauses in between.

Searching for the Herd

A lost cow will begin with a high-pitched moo that grows louder with a usual cracking sound at the end.

Expressing Discomfort

A cow under stress or discomfort often lets a low, almost vibrating moo without opening their mouths.

Expressing Joy

A herd of cows just fussing around will moo in short vocalizations, sounding similar to a “maaw.” These moos begin low and end at the middle of their vocal range.

Are Cows Active at Night?

Cows are the most active during the day. However, they may also be significantly active at night, leading to considerable mooing during nighttime.

Most mooing comes from various activities the cows may undertake at night. For instance, if it was too hot in the daytime, the cows may be hungry, leading them to graze at night, producing some mooing.

Cows may also be very active at night if stressed or have sensed danger from a predator. They will persistently moo until you respond and deal with the cause of their stress and anxiety.

Most farmers observe their cow’s activity at night using game cameras to detect predators or other situations that may make the cows uncomfortable.

How to Take Care of Your Cows Based on their Mooing

You can take several actions to respond appropriately to your cow’s mooing. Most of them cover stress, discomfort, and safety. These actions include the following:

  • Keep a decent-sized herd – You should never leave a cow alone in the pasture. A sizeable herd will deter predators. Conversely, avoid large herds that may squeeze the cows in the herd and cause discomfort.
  • Invest in a fence or guard dog – A strong cattle or field fence will keep predators away and help control the movement of cows. Having a guard dog will help fight predators and keep the cows safe.
  • Pay special attention to sick and pregnant cows – Sick and pregnant cows need more attention to deal with possible stress and discomfort.

Provide Safety to Your Cows

A cow’s moo will tell you a lot about its sense of safety, comfort, and hunger. You can visit our shop and explore various fencing options to keep your cows safe.

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