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Appl Anim Behav Sci. 2000 Mar 22;67(1-2):15-33.

Vocal behaviour in cattle: the animal's commentary on its biological processes and welfare.

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  • 1Department of Herd Medicine and Theriogenology, University of Saskatchewan, Western College of Veterinary Medicine, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada


The vocalizations of cattle provide conspecifics with meaningful information about the caller. If we can learn how to interpret this information correctly, it could be used to improve management and welfare assessment. Vocalization may be viewed as a subjective commentary, by an individual, on its own internal state. The vocal behaviour of cattle is potentially a useful indicator of their physiological and psychological functioning.In the first part of this article we ask what information is exchanged using auditory cues. Vocalizations provide information on the age, sex, dominance status and reproductive status of the caller. Calves can recognize their mothers using vocal cues but it is not clear whether cows recognize their offspring in this way. Vocal behaviour may play a role in estrus advertisement and competitive display by bulls. Under experimental conditions involving pain or social isolation, vocal response is useful as an indicator of welfare, if properly used. Unlike commonly used physiological measures, it can be recorded non-invasively and varies on a number of quantitative and qualitative dimensions.In the second part we review methodological approaches to the study of vocal behaviour and their application in cattle welfare research. Methods may focus on the actions of the vocalizing animal and the conditions which elicit vocal behaviour, the response of an animal to hearing another's vocalizations, or interactions between sender and receiver.We argue that vocal behaviour in cattle may be valuable in welfare studies if the endogenous, exogenous and developmental factors influencing its expression can be more thoroughly investigated and understood.

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