“They’re just like you and me,” said Colorado veterinarian Greg Goodell. “They moo when they’re happy, hungry or when they’re curious. It just depends. If you’re a moo aficionado like many veterinarians or farmers can be, you can tell the difference.”
Goodell said there are distinctions to the inflection of a moo, not unlike a human’s voice. He said it’s not uncommon for dairy farmers to walk into their barn and hear a moo and know which cow it came from.
“It’s just like when your Aunt Thelma walks in the door, and you don’t see her but you hear her and know who it is,” he said. “Everybody is familiar with the moo but there are different inflections and pitches. If you’re around it enough, you can pick up on the differences. It’s not like the storybook where the cow simply says ‘moo.’”
He said cows also communicate with body language, which can be seen through the positioning of their ears.
“If their ears are standing straight out to the side, they’re showing total interest,” he said. “They’re very attentive and they are looking at whatever has their curiosity. They could be wary of a distant predator or they may see a person at the farm they’re not accustomed to seeing, so they’ll be looking in that direction.
“Cows very much just want to express themselves.”