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"Mother-offspring cattle calls are individualized—each calf and cow have a characteristic and exclusive call of their own," says Mónica Padilla de la Torre. (Credit: iStockphoto)

agriculture

Cows and calves only need 3 calls to ‘chat’

Cows and their calves basically communicate using three distinct calls, according to researchers who, for the first time, used detailed acoustics to eavesdrop on conversations between the two.

A study of the way cows communicate with their young identified two distinct maternal calls. When cows were close to their calves, they communicated with them using low frequency calls.

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But, when they were separated and out of visual contact, the calls were louder and at a much higher frequency.

Calves use a third call to let their mothers know when they wanted to start suckling.

All three types of calls were individualized, the researchers say. It was possible to identify each cow and calf using its calls.

For the study, published in the journal Applied Animal Behavior, researchers studied two herds of free-range cattle on a farm in Radcliffe-on-Trent, Nottinghamshire.

A call of their own

Recordings were made using highly sensitive equipment, gathering so much data it took another year to analyze.

“The research shows for the first time that mother-offspring cattle calls are individualized—each calf and cow have a characteristic and exclusive call of their own,” says Mónica Padilla de la Torre of the University of Nottingham.

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

Coauthor Alan McElligott of Queen Mary University of London adds, “By investigating vocalizations in behavioral contexts outside of mother-offspring communication, further research could reveal vocal indicators of welfare—and influence change in animal care policies.”

The National Council of Science and Technology, Mexico funded the study.

Source: University of Nottingham

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