Your mother may have told you when you were a child that cows lie down when it’s about to rain, but what’s the real truth behind this?
Unfortunately it’s an old, untrue, wive’ tale – even when they draw from scientific study you find that cows have no clue about rain.
A scientific study that was published in 2013, conducted by the University of Arizona and Northern Missouri, wasn’t really about rain, it was about the cows’ body temperature and it’s effect on milk production.
A lot of people though still believe that cows sitting down means it’s going to rain.
Cows actually tend to lie down when the weather gets a little cold. They lie down to keep a patch of grass dry and to keep their stomach warm. The wives tale comes about because as the temperature drops it usually indicates that rain may be coming.
According to an interview on Modern Farmer with the author of the study on cows, Dr Jamieson Allen, cold weather doesn’t always indicate rain and the cows lie down for many different reasons including tiredness, heat-stress or following their communal leader.
Dr Allen is asked: “Basically their conclusion was that, if a hot cow likes to stand up, then a cooler cow will lie down. It often gets cool before a rainstorm. Therefore a cow on the ground may be forecasting rain?”
But it’s more often than not simply not the case, it seems.
“It’s a pretty big leap,” Dr Allen replies.
“For one thing, we were just studying heat-stressed cows. Day to-day, there are 100 reasons why a cow may choose to lie down or stand up. Cows are individuals; they act of their own accord.
“They could be standing because they’re thirsty and are moving towards water. They might lie down because they’re tired. Cows are herd animals. They might just be following the direction of a leader.
“If an animal is left on its own in a pasture, it will spend a third of its time gathering food, a third of its time eating, and a third of it sleeping. If they’re lying down, it probably doesn’t signal much beyond the fact that it’s sleeping time.”
After mentioning some reasonable theories, Live Science also debunked the old wives’ tale about cows lying down due to rain. It says:
“Is there any weight behind this tale? Not likely – cows lie down for many reasons, and there’s no scientific evidence that rain is one of them.
“As the Farmer’s Almanac says, ‘Cows lying down in a field more often means they’re chewing their cud, rather than preparing for raindrops’.”
AHDB Dairy also suggests this: “By nature, cows are more likely to take a nap than to sleep for a long time, but that doesn’t mean they don’t like to chill out. Cows can lie down for up to 14 hours a day.”
Here are some actual facts about cows…
- Cows are social, and make friends in their herd, while avoiding others they don’t like.
- A cow can smell food up to six miles away.
- Cows have near-360 degree, panoramic vision.
- Cows don’t bite grass, they curl their tongue around it and pull it up.
- A cow is unable to vomit.
- The average dairy cow produces about eight gallons of milk per day.
- Cows have one stomach, but four separate compartments for digestion.