If you have ever been within earshot of a cow farm, you’ve probably noticed. If you own cows, you have definitely noticed! I am talking about, of course, cows’ propensity to mooing at night.
Seeming for no reason at all, herds of cows seem to moo in the dead of night, and their ruckus can easily wake you up. It is maddening sometimes. Why do they do it? What causes it? Is there a cause? Why do cows moo at night?
Cows moo at night for many of the same reasons that they moo in the daytime, namely for locating each other, calling for lost calves, alerting for food or predators, or because they are hungry or stressed.
Huh. Turns out there is no special reason why they moo at night.
They are just doing cow stuff! Well, at least there isn’t some troubling reason why they moo, though if you hear your cows mooing fast and loud you’ll want to investigate. We’ll tell you all about that eventuality and a lot more in this article.
You Don’t Imagine It, Cows Do Moo at Night
If you live anywhere near a cow farm, and it seems like cows moo a lot during the night, maybe even more than the daytime, you aren’t alone.
It can be really annoying, especially when you are trying to sleep. But don’t despair, there is a reason for it (several reasons actually), and we will get into all of that shortly.
First, let’s just dispel one myth about cows mooing at night. It isn’t because one of them is about to die or any other kind of mysterious omen.
Yes, they will moo at night when distressed, but the mooing isn’t brought on by any paranormal senses.
Cows are Probably More Active at Night than you Think
There is a popular misunderstanding about cows that they are truly diurnal, like people. Although this generally applies to cows, they are far more variable in their schedules than most people depending on conditions.
In fact, cows might be highly active at night for several reasons. In any case, it stands to reason that if cows are more active, they will moo more.
In Hot Weather, Cows Might Be Graze More at Night
One of the main reasons that cows might well be more active at night is a simple fact that it is cooler. Cows are big animals, and they struggle to shed heat very efficiently.
In hot weather, cows will often lounge around and rest during the day and then graze more at night when it is cooler to keep their body temperatures down and conserve energy.
Ever seen cows just chilling under a shade tree in the middle of the day? There you go.
And just like what happens when you take a long siesta in the middle of the day, you’ll be more likely to stay up late at night. Same thing for cows!
Of course, if cows are grazing more, they moo more in general to stay in communication with each other.
Mooing is Actually Complex Communication in a Herd
Mooing, contrary to lay opinion, is not just a simple blurt of noise that cows make. It is actually a form of highly variable vocalization that can convey multiple meanings.
Additionally, research has shown that moos are unique to individual cows and can be recognized among the herd. It is no exaggeration to say that a cow’s moo is as distinct as your voice.
So when you hear a cow mooing in the night, listen closely and know that they are communicating various things among each other. With a little practice, you’ll be able to tell these moos apart yourself.
The following sections will describe the various reasons a cow will moo at night (or in the daytime.)
Cows Moo to Locate the Herd When Separated
One of the most common reasons cows moo, especially at night, is to locate the herd, or for the herd to locate a missing member. This is sort of like playing Marco Polo, but on land. And for cows, of course!
In seriousness, even though cows have fairly good night vision and routinely move around at night, members of the herd can still get separated or left behind for any number of reasons, and mooing as a sort of call-and-response method is the best option cows have to reunite with each other.
Cows Moo to Alert the Herd of Danger
Another extremely common reason for cows to moo at night is to alert one another to the presence of danger, or even possible danger.
This could be anything from a detected predator to simply a loud noise or unknown movement that startled the cow.
Cows might even moo when they smell something unfamiliar, as unfamiliar scents could mean danger!
In any case, when one cow moos loudly in alarm, the rest of the herd will often times moo as well in order to share the warning and help keep everyone safe.
This harsh, sharp mooing will be repeated until the danger has passed. If you hear this alarm call, take note and prepare to take action: there might be a predator or other danger lurking about that requires your intervention!
Calves Moo to Find their Parents and Vice Versa
Cows will moo insistently when separated from their calves, even for a short time. A mother cow can recognize the moo of her calf instantly, and vice versa, and she will not rest until she finds her baby.
Since calves are young and inexperienced, they often go missing, get stuck or get into trouble, and their pitiful bleating will quickly put you on edge and more importantly rile up the herd.
Expect both mother and calf to moo mournfully until they reconnect, and if you only hear one or the other you know there is trouble.
If this mooing does not stop in a short while, meaning that mom and baby have happily reconnected, you should investigate, especially at night.
Cows Moo When they Find Food
Cows don’t always moo for sad, stressful reasons. They also moo for happy reasons, and for a cow nothing is much happier than finding food.
Cows are very food motivated, and they will moo with excitement when they find a particularly tasty treat or a large quantity of food.
This could be anything from a fresh patch of grass to a bale of crisp hay. If you hear cows mooing in what sounds like celebration it is likely that they have made an exciting food discovery.
You might want to check it out for yourself, just to make sure everything is okay and that the cows have access to what they need, but this sort of mooing sounds decidedly less ominous than the others on this list.
Cows Moo When they Are Hungry or Thirsty
Another food-driven reason for mooing, yes, even at night. Cows will moo when they are hungry or thirsty as a way of communicating this need to the rest of the herd but more importantly communicating it to you.
Cows are social, intelligent creatures and will learn rapidly that being annoying is a sure way to summon that two-legged animal(you) that will bring along some sort of tasty food for them to eat.
No, you aren’t imagining it. Cows will moo more and more when they are hungry, or just when it is getting closer to an established dinner time.
If you hear constant mooing at a regular time every day it is likely that the cows are just telling you that they are ready for their next meal or snack.
And Cows Also Moo When they Are Bored or Distressed
Lastly, cows may moo when they are hurt or unhappy. If a cow is lamed, sick, in pain, bored or just generally feeling low she will often times moo to communicate this.
If you suddenly hear a lot of mooing from a single cow in what was previously a quiet herd it might be worth taking a closer look to see if there is an injured animal that needs your help.
Keep in mind cows might moo because they are lonely or just bored. Maybe some interaction with you or a change of scenery is all it takes to cheer them up and silence the mooing.
Tom has built and remodeled homes, generated his own electricity, grown his own food and more, all in quest of remaining as independent of society as possible. Now he shares his experiences and hard-earned lessons with readers around the country.