7 Reasons Cows Moo and What Each Pitch Means

Written by Lisa Bohler
Updated: November 15, 2023
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Have you ever listened to cows mooing and wondered what the sounds mean? Ranchers, dairy farmers, and people who own these animals learn to listen to the moo’s pitch and volume to discern what the cows are trying to say. If you learn to understand the urgency created by different pitches, you will be able to decipher their language and make an educated guess as to why cows moo.

Very beautiful landscape with cows in the village of "Dourwanga" in the northeast of Niger

A herd of cows grazing in a pasture is content and quiet.

©Boukar Mahamane/iStock via Getty Images

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1. Hunger

South Devon Cow Dartmoor, Devon

A cow waiting on her owner to bring her range cubes and hay.

©Dave Atkins/Shutterstock.com

Cows moo to let their owners know that they are hungry. These large animals seem to be eating all of the time. They are in their pastures, grazing on grasses most of the day. How could they possibly be hungry?

Cow owners usually follow a schedule. They feed the animals around the same time each day. Range cubes and pellets are provided to the animals because the pasture grass they eat all day does not always contain all the nutrients they require. When they are not getting all the nutrients they need, they crave something that will provide what they are missing. Usually, the cow is not hungry; they need more nutrients or are accustomed to eating at a certain time, and their owner is late with dinner.

The pitch and volume of the hungry moo are determined by the intensity of its hunger. These creatures are not known for being patient. They will wait for their food, but the longer they have to wait, the higher the pitch of their moo. As the pitch gets higher, the volume of the moo also increases.

2. Loneliness

Four funny cows looking at the camera

Cows are social animals that bond with the other cows in their pasture.

©Birkir Asgeirsson/Shutterstock.com

A cow needs other cows, just like humans need other humans. When one member of a herd is sold away from the herd they are accustomed to living with, they will often moo. The vocalization helps them locate the friends they cannot find. The pitch that the cow uses when it is lonely will be high. Low pitches are not very loud, so the cow will emit a high-pitched sound to ensure the rest of the herd can hear them.

The animals can suffer from separation anxiety. If they lose sight of the rest of the herd, they will become anxious and start to moo. Other members of the herd will hear the cow calling for them and will answer them. The lone cow will follow the sounds of the other cows mooing until she is reunited with the herd.

3. Anger

longhorn bull

Longhorn bulls can express anger with the look in their eye.


Mostly, a cow is a big, curious animal that is non-aggressive. They tend to calmly go about daily routine, grazing, chewing their cud, and ambling around their pasture. If something interrupts the tranquility of their day, they can become angry, and they will moo to show their displeasure.

Angry cows will typically moo on a low pitch. The mouth of the animal will be shut tight, and the pitch of the moo will be so low that it can be compared to a rumble or an intense growl. An angry cow is unpredictable and should be avoided if at all possible. Even when the cow is angry at another animal, a human can be hurt if they get in the path of the angry bovine.

4. Fear


A frightened herd of cattle runs away as a group.


What makes a cow afraid? Cattle are prey, not predators. They are big animals, but for the most part, they are docile. These animals pose a larger threat when they are afraid than when they are mad. A herd of frightened cows will stampede while running away from the thing that scared them. When cows stampede, they run over anything that is in their path. If they hear sounds that frighten them, like loud noises, and if they smell a predator, like a wolf or coyote, but do not see the predator, they will become afraid.

When a cow sees something different in their pasture, they become afraid. When they smell something new or smell a predator, they become afraid. They will become afraid if they hear a predator or something they do not recognize.

The cow has no natural defense system and is not often aggressive. They run away when scared of something. As the creatures run, they will moo in a high pitch to warn all other cows of the impending danger.

5. Pain


The cow experiences pain when giving birth, but she forgets it as she tends to her newborn calf.

©Karlie Butler/Shutterstock.com

Pain makes most animals vocal. When a cow is in intense pain, like when birthing, they will cry out in loud, high-pitched mooing to let others know they are hurting. When they moo like that, they are trying to find relief from the pain they are experiencing.

Cows tolerate pain differently. Some cows are vocal drama queens when they feel pain, while others may continue walking around as if nothing is wrong. When the pain becomes intense enough, even the less dramatic creatures will moo and try to tell someone else about it.

6. Common Distress

Speckle Park Bovine Cow Outside in Winter

Winter cold and summer heat are two of the major causes of cow distress.

©Beatrice Foord-St-Laurent/Shutterstock.com

Hunger, anger, pain, and loneliness are causes of distress in cows. The animal becomes distressed if the temperature is too cold or hot. They become distressed if they do not have plenty of water or if another cow is bullying them.

Distressed cows moo to demonstrate their displeasure with the situation. The mooing of distress will be loud and high-pitched. Cows do not hold their feelings inside or hide them. They let out moos or bellers to let everyone within hearing distance know that they were uncomfortable, unhappy, or feeling mistreated.

7. Breeding Time

Brown Cow

When cows are in their estrous cycle, they moo loudly so the bull can locate them.


When the time is right for a cow to breed, they make loud, high-pitched mooing sounds. A cow comes into estrous every 18–21 days until they breed. A cow will be at its peak breeding cycle for 16 to 18 hours. The bull and the cow have a strong urge to breed and reproduce. Both sexes will moo and call to each other during this cycle.

The bull will make low-pitched mooing sounds when they are close to the cow they are courting. The low-pitched sounds are intimate and heard only by animals that are close to them. If the cow and the bull are not close together, they will moo in loud, high-pitched tones until they find each other. If your cow is normally not vocal but suddenly becomes very vocal, they are more than likely looking for a mate.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © brandtbolding/iStock via Getty Images

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About the Author

Lisa Bohler is a writer for A-Z Animals, where her primary focus is on mammals, amphibians, and reptiles. Lisa has been writing and researching animals for over 12 years and holds a Bachelor's Degree in English and Creative Writing from Liberty University, which she earned in 2021. A resident of Texas, Lisa enjoys fishing, gardening, and caring for the animals on her small hobby farm.

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