There are a number of fields not far from my home that have cows in for all, or part of the year. It’s not unusual to hear the cows of an evening. However, lockdown and reduced traffic noise have cast this in a rather different light for me.
It’s become obvious, walking in the evenings, that the cows are calling to each other. With far less traffic noise, it has become obvious that the evening cow calls are conversational. You can hear cows from one herd call and then a response from somewhere else – perhaps miles away. The sounds cows make turn out to travel well over distances when they don’t have much to compete with.
I suppose it’s possible that the different herds have been able to hear each other all along, but I suspect not. I have no idea what the hearing capacity of a cow is, but the relentless traffic noise drowns out so much that I can’t think they could hear each other over it either.
If that’s so, then the calling at evening is a pathos laden thing. That cows who may never, or seldom have got response from another herd, call out at the end of the day on the off-chance other cows are out there somewhere. I wonder what it’s been like for them finally hearing a response.
When people talk about animals, it’s common to ascribe behaviour to instinct. There’s no thought or feeling in it, just instinctive animal responses to life. ‘Instinct’ is a pretty meaningless word when you poke it. it’s a refusal to look for the mechanics – be those genetic, learned, or otherwise. How ancient is the urge to call out to other herds? What keeps that kind of behaviour going when no response is ever experienced? What else has been lost because we make so much noise we drown it out?