A wry view of life for the world-weary

Discovery Of The Week (2)


In that most saccharine of Christmas Carols, Away In A Manger, the cattle are lowing and the newly born infant awakes. I’m sure, like me, you have regarded lowing as one of the things that cattle do, along with releasing mega quantities of methane into the atmosphere, and there is nothing more to it than adding a bit of colour to the Nativity scene.

Not a bit of it. The cattle would have been having a conversation, if some research that came to my attention this week and led by Dr Monica Padilla de la Torre from the University of Nottingham is to be believed. Astonishingly, they spent 10 months studying the way cows talk to their young.

Two maternal calls were identified – a low one emitted when the mother was close to her calf and a higher pitched one when they were out of visual contact. Calves called out when they wanted to start suckling. The most important finding, at least in the eyes (and to the ears) of the scientists, was that all three calls were individualised. This means that a particular cow could recognise and respond to her own calf’s calls.

Extremely useful when you are competing against a cacophony of bleating sheep and goats, the braying of donkeys, a heavenly host complete with trumpets and wise men and their entourages.

Isn’t science wonderful?!

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