Study finds talking to cows face-to-face helps them relax

Researchers in Austria worked with a herd of 28 cattle.
Researchers in Austria worked with a herd of 28 cattle. Photo credit: File / Getty

A new study has found face-to-face chatting with cows relaxes the animals and can improve their welfare.

Researchers in Austria worked with a herd of 28 cattle, comparing the cows' responses to being either spoken to directly, while simultaneously being stroked, or being played a recording of an experimenter talking soothingly to them.

The scientists found both methods work to relax the animals however concluded: "Changes in cardiac parameters point toward a more positive experience and longer-lasting relaxation effects of live talking". 

"Cattle like stroking in combination with gentle talking," said Annika Lange of the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna, Austria. 

The researchers found the cows had a higher heart rate variability when spoken to directly, indicating they were enjoying themselves, compared to lower heart rates when listening to a recorded voice.

They also showed other more obvious signs of their mood.

"When relaxed and enjoying the interaction, the animals will often stretch out their necks as they do when they groom each other," said Lange. 

"Additionally, it is thought that ear positions may indicate mood: hanging ears and low ear positions appear to be linked to relaxation."

Because the study included just one herd and one playback recording, more research was still needed to see how cattle in other situations respond, the scientists said.