Cows use individualised calls to communicate

London: Cows use individualised calls to communicate with their young, according to a new study which found that it is possible to identify each cow and calf using its calls.

Researchers from The University of Nottingham and Queen Mary University of London, spent ten months studying the ways cows communicate with their young, carefully examining acoustic indicators of identity and age.

The study identified two distinct maternal ‘calls’. When cows were close to their calves, they communicated with them using low frequency calls.

When they were separated – out of visual contact – their calls were louder and at a much higher frequency.

Calves called out to their mothers when they wanted to start suckling. All three types of calls were individualised – it was possible to identify each cow and calf using its calls, researchers said.

It has long been thought that cows use individualised calls to communicate with each other, but this study confirms the theory and identifies particular types of mother-offspring contact calls in cattle, researchers said.

The researchers studied two herds of free-range cattle on a farm in Radcliffe-on-Trent, Nottinghamshire. Recordings were made using highly sensitive equipment, gathering data which took another year to analyse.

“The research shows for the first time that mother-offspring cattle ‘calls’ are individualised – each calf and cow have a characteristic and exclusive call of their own,” said Dr Monica Padilla de la Torre who led the research while at The University of Nottingham’s School of Life Sciences.

“Acoustic analysis also reveals that certain information is conveyed within the calf calls – age, but not gender,” Torre said.

“By investigating vocalisations in behavioural contexts outside of mother-offspring communication, further research could reveal vocal indicators of welfare – and influence change in animal care policies,” said Dr Alan McElligott at Queen Mary University of London.