Do cows lie down before it rains?

Thursday 14th Mar 2013 by theWeather Club

Image: Graham Horn

New study shows that cows lie down or stand up depending on the temperature. Weather folklore suggests that cows lie down when it's about to rain, so does this new research add any weight to this old wives' tale. Researchers at the University of Arizona and Northwest Missouri State University highlighted that the behaviour of cows is related to heat stress.

In a presentation at the 2013 ADSA Midwest Branch / ASAS Midwestern Section Meeting, Dr. Jamison Allen explained that predicting heat stress is vital for keeping cows healthy and productive. Cows will pant, eat less and produce less milk when their core body temperature increases. Allen said cows prefer standing to lying on hot days. Cows stand to allow more of their surface area to disperse heat into the air.

The researchers used two tools to study the relationship between behaviour and temperature. They fitted each cow with an internal sensor to measure core body temperature. They also fitted each cow with a special leg sensor to measure the angle of the leg and track whether the cow was standing or lying.

After comparing data from cows in Arizona, California and Minnesota, the researchers concluded that standing behaviour and core body temperature are strongly correlated. "We can predict the animal's behaviour to stand according to their core temperature," Allen said.

The study discovered that cows stand up for longer periods when it is hot and lie down when it is colder - which often happens it's about to rain. According to Allen, dairy producers could use standing behaviour to improve well being and efficiency in their herds. He said producers could use coolers and misters to target a specific core body temperature. By encouraging cows to lie down, producers will also help their cows conserve energy.