From the way they communicate to the way they determine social hierarchy, cows never fail to amaze with their fascinating social society.
One of the tell-tale signs of the depth of cow society is the way they organize themselves, huddling together in various social groupings in different situations almost as if they are plotting against each other.
Cows huddle together in small social groups for grazing and socializing, and in larger groups for protection and traveling as a herd. Cows are also very inquisitive and group together slowly around anything they find interesting.
In this article, we’ll discover some of the reasons cows huddle together and dive into the complex social structure of cow society.
Socializing With The Herd
The first and most endearing reasons cow huddle together is for socialization. Cows are highly social herd animals, with complex social structures and hierarchies.
Scientists from Austral University in Chile studied the groupings of cows by recording their grooming habits and found that cows form distinctive social groups within the herd, usually with the cows that grew up around them.
Protection from Predators and Bugs
Cows are prey animals, which means they are instinctively nervous and wary of predators. While modern cattle aren’t running from lions on the savannah, there are still predators like wild dogs and foxes that can be dangerous to calves.
One of the few protections cows have to defend against predators is the size of their herd. Though modern cattle have few predators, the evolutionary instinct to protect themselves by huddling together in a group remains.
Cows arrange themselves in a ring, similar to a roman turtle formation, with the calves in the middle and the larger cows on the outside to defend them from potential predators.
As well as defending themselves from predators, cows protect themselves from another nuisance by huddling together – bugs.
Cows use their tails to defend themselves against biting bugs and irritating insects. By huddling together, cows can use all their tails to defend the entire herd from bugs much better than an individual cow can.
Eating and Foraging
Unlike many other grazing animals, cows graze as a herd and forage socially. They are not territorial with grazing lands and even moo loudly to alert other members of their herd if they find a good grazing spot.
If you notice a group of cows huddled together as they graze, it may be because they have found a particularly good grazing spot.
Even in cow herds that are fed on grains and synthetic feed, they gather together and eat together from their troughs.
Even when cows push their way into the food, the cows that they bump out of the way will lick the neck of the offending cow as a way to ease any social tension. It’s the cows’ way of saying they are still friends.
Traveling as a Herd
Although cows are usually kept in enclosed farmlands now, they are descended from large, migratory herding animals called aurochs that roamed the plains of Europe and Asia.
Read More: Are There Any Wild Cows?
Traveling and migrating as a herd is necessary for wild herd animals because if they end up getting separated from the herd they become an easy target for predators.
Modern cows have no need for this migratory herd dynamic, but the herd mentality is deeply ingrained in them and you can still see herds of cows sticking together even on a farm.
Cows move as a group when they are being called in for milking or feeding, or when they are being rotated on to fresh pastures. The evolutionary explanation for this behavior is that a large herd is easier to defend against predators.
Cows are curious and inquisitive, but they are still prey animals and are quite easily spooked. This odd combination of characteristics means that cows like to explore and understand their environment, but they do it slowly and in a group.
Cows will display odd, slow-moving nervous huddling around dogs, people, other animals, or even inanimate objects that they don’t recognize.
My favorite example of this is cows huddling together in a field to listen to music. There are lots of videos of cows coming to listen to accordions, trombones, tubas, and even just human voices.
Read More: Do Cows Like Music?
To sum up, cows huddle together in lots of different circumstances, but the underlying reason is usually socialization or protection.
Some specific examples of when cows huddle together include feeding or grazing, socializing, moving around as a herd, for protection from predators, and to perform a threat assessment on new things in their environment.
Cows are hard-wired to work together. Their strong herd mentality and complex, egalitarian social behaviors allow cows to huddle together to overcome problems that an individual cow couldn’t solve on their own.
Some examples of this include protecting their calves from predators at night by sleeping around them, keeping biting insects at bay by huddling together and using each other’s tails, and finding enough food for the herd by splitting up to find food and coming together to eat it.