Why Do Cows Moo At Night?

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If you own cattle or live near a cattle ranch, you may have heard cows mooing at night and wondered why in the world they are mooing when they should be sleeping. Are they hungry? Are they mad? Are they mooing just to annoy you and wake you up for no reason?

Why do cows moo at night? You will be happy to know, there are a number of reasons that cows moo in the middle of the night and even though it may seem like it, they are not mooing for nothing. Cows moo at night to communicate to the rest of the herd and, often, to protect them from some kind of danger that is lurking in the shadows.

At first glance, you may not be able to figure out exactly what the cows are trying to say, but if you could really see what exactly was happening, you would understand the situation and know precisely why they were mooing.

A vital part of farming or even living near a cattle farm is to understand why cows moo so that you can take note and maybe even resolve a potentially dangerous event from unfolding.

5 Reasons Cows Moo At Night

Cows moo for a number of reasons and most of them are valid. Even though you might not understand why, cows moo to communicate an important message to you or to other cattle.  

1. They feel threatened.

One of the most common reasons that cows moo at night is because they feel threatened, either by a person or predator.

Coyotes, mountain lions, and even wild dogs will use the cover of darkness to attack vulnerable cattle. They typically seek out calves, sick cows or senior cattle because they are the easiest to catch.

Cows that see a predator prowling about will moo loudly to alert the rest of the herd that danger is afoot.

2. They cannot find their calves.

Cows will also moo or bellow at night when they are unable to find their calf. Even if the mother cow has been intentionally separated from its calf by a farmer, the mother cow will not understand.

The cow will continue to moo for its calf to find it, at least for a few days. Momma cows that are still in a herd with their calves will sometimes ‘misplace’ their own calf throughout the night and will moo to find them. If the calf hears its mother, it will moo back.

3. They are lost.

Throughout the night, trees can fall on fences allowing cows to inadvertently find their way out of a pasture or enclosure. As a cow grazes unchecked outside its home pasture, it may accidentally get lost.

Cattle are herd animals by nature and while they sometimes venture out on their own for short periods, eventually they will want to be back with the rest of their herd.

Lost cows will often moo repeatedly until the rest of the herd guides the cow back with their own collective moos.

4. They are hungry or have found new food.

Cows that are hungry will often moo, even in the middle of the night, because they are in distress and looking for food.

Cows learn over time that if they moo incessantly, someone on a big tractor or four-wheeler eventually brings them food.

Cows will also moo when they find food because they are alerting the rest of the herd and they are excited about it, especially when its on the other side of the fence!

5. They are upset, hurt or stressed.

Cows will moo in middle of the night if they become upset, injured or if they feel stressed in some way or another. Perhaps they were moved from their regular herd of friends, or maybe a familiar cow buddy or other animal friend has been moved or passed away.

Cows that are in pain either emotionally or physically will be stressed and upset which will cause them to moo throughout the day and even through the night.

Even though you may not see an injury, a cow can have internal pain that causes it to moo incessantly.  

Cows mooing at night superstition

People that are superstitious often claim that when a cow moos at night, it is an omen that someone is going to die. Some says it will be someone in your close circle, but have no fear, cows moo at night for a specific reason, not because they are superstitious.

Are cows very active at night?

Cows tend to be the most active during the day, but if you have ever watched your cows at night or set up a game camera to spot predators, you will know that your cows are rather active throughout the night.

Cows will graze pastures even in the dark, especially if it is rather hot during the daytime. In warm weather, the coolness of the night makes cows more likely graze during that time.

Cows will also be active at night if they are hungry, stressed, or sense a threat from a predator.

Cows are usually not exceptionally active at night, usually opting to rest, however, if cows find their way out of your pasture, you will learn quick that cows can be very active at night in the right circumstance

Can cows see well in the dark?

Yes, cows can see well in the dark! Like horses, cows can see better during the nighttime than we can.

Cows, along with other prey animals, have developed defense mechanisms like night vision in order to survive predatory attacks.

A cow’s eyes can control the amount of light that enters much better than we can, allowing them to see more easily at night than humans.

Ways to keep cows safe at night

There are a number of ways that you can help to keep your cows safe during the night and possibly reduce the amount of mooing you hear after dark.

1. Keep a decent sized herd at all times.

Never leave a cow out in a pasture by itself or with only one or two other cows. A good herd of 5 to 10 or more is ideal for them to be able to protect each other from danger and they will feel safer, possible reducing their desire to moo and bellow. (source)

2. Consider getting a livestock guard dog.

You can also invest in a well-trained livestock guard dog like a Great Pyrenees that can protect your herd from predators like coyotes or wild dogs.

These dogs by nature enjoy protecting a herd of animals and will sleep in the pasture with your cattle or other livestock, fending off any predator that dares to approach their herd.

Fewer predators often equals less mooing throughout the night.

3. Add a guard donkey to your herd.

If you do not want a dog, consider a guard donkey! Yes! Donkeys are well-known for inadvertently protecting livestock by sensing predators and even fighting them off by kicking or biting them.

They might even chase a predator down if they are feeling frisky! While donkeys do not naturally want to protect livestock, they do have a strong desire to protect themselves.

Donkeys will watch for predators that did not get the memo to steer clear of their pasture.

4. Pay special attention to pregnant and sick cows.

If you have pregnant cattle that are nearing the end of their pregnancy, you should consider bringing them closer to your barn or even putting them in a small enclosure near or in your barn.

Cows that are giving birth are easy prey for predators as they cannot defend themselves while they are in active labor and newborn calves cannot run away.

Cattle that appear sick or frail should not be left out in the open pasture at night either. Unwell cows, regardless of their age, make prime targets for predators looking for an easy meal.

How do cows protect themselves at night?

Cows protect themselves at night by sleeping or grazing in a large group with the rest of the herd.

A predator is unlikely to attack a large group of cows, instead opting for the ones that are alone and away from the rest of the herd.

Cows will also kick at, headbutt and run after any predators that get too close the herd, especially if they get near a calf or group of calves.

Final Thoughts

Cows are fun animals to own, but sometimes their intermittent mooing spells can get annoying, especially if they do it in the middle of the night. Luckily, if you know the reasons why most cows moo at night, you can often deter or minimize it by making a few minor adjustments on your ranch.

Either way, know that the cows are mooing for a reason and it does not mean that a familial death is imminent. It only means that they are communicating something and, if you want them to stop, you should probably listen.  

April Lee

I have a love for all things farmhouse design. I am currently working on designing a custom built farmhouse from the ground up. While the actual build is a few years out, I am using this blog as a place to consolidate all of my research and design ideas. I hope that you find the information here helpful so that you too can have the farmhouse of your dreams! Remember, you don't need a farmhouse to implement farmhouse design in any space.