Joyce Bupp, farm wife

Most of us are believers in the value of research.

Sometimes when you take a closer look at research projects, and delve into who, what, where and how it’s being funded, you question the value ... and the end results.

Results of a study recently reported in a daily dairy newsletter that comes across my computer feed left me chuckling, and shaking my head in puzzlement. It was a study undertaken by an Australian researcher, relating to what I’d label “cattle communication.” After studying a group of some 18 Holstein heifers for five months, the results determined that cattle had different communication techniques to relay different information to herdmates.

To “talk” with herdmates who were close by, the heifers reportedly used a low-frequency, sort-of-nasal call. A similar low-toned “mooing” is believed to also signal a low level of distress. A more high-frequency bellow was entailed for more distant communication. (Kinda’ like mom used when she called us with that “or else!” tone in her voice.) Higher-frequency bellowing also was a signal for estrus, or as most of us veteran dairy people would simply say “she was in heat.”

It took a five-month study to determine that? Well, duh.

Every cattle farmer I’ve ever known has a pretty good handle on what those “cattle communications” mean. And, in some cases, even without looking, if you’d been around a particular herd of cattle for any length of time, you had a good idea which bovine was doing the “talking.”

More than once, over the years, we were awakened in the middle of the night by “cattle communication.” High-frequency bawling, with an obvious hint of distress, generally signaled that one of our dry cows was about to drop a calf. And when that bawling woke us, The Farmer hit the floor and headed out to the box stalls. If it went too long, or he didn’t return in what seemed like reasonable time, I followed, in case an extra set of hands was needed for a difficult delivery.

Other middle-of-the-night cattle communications brought groans of “oh no, the cows are out!” with the high-frequency calls, on more than one occasion, erupting from right below the open-in-summer bedroom windows. Thank goodness for four-wheelers, a farmer’s right-hand roundup piece of equipment. And quicker than saddling a horse.

Most mornings, as I open the door to the old barn, I’m greeted with an urgent “cattle communication.” It’s one, or both, of the two young dairy beef animals telling me they want their breakfast. And complaining that I wasn’t there at daybreak.

As we all know — without outside research — all animals communicate. The hens chatter as I open their door and leave them out each morning and make similar “conversation” when they come racing toward the porch looking for treats of crackers every time they see me come out the door.

Still, I was puzzled one morning last week by a strange, sort of high-pitched scream, originating from somewhere under the old barn. Eventually, at the most distant wall, I spied the source: a pair of resident “tomcats,” obviously in mating-season overdrive. Neither Teddy, my sort-of, sometimes housecat, or the pudgy gray-and-white contender for the potential harem, was budging. And I’m not sure which one at that point was screaming at the other.

Minutes later, I returned to the barn to find the pair just outside the door, hunched up, tails twitching, in an unmoving standoff. Bits of fur were liberally scattered all over the pavement, so much that it looked like a feather pillow had busted a seam. It wasn’t hard to figure out what that “communication” was all about.

With today being Valentine’s Day, we just hope that your loved ones, or the ones vying for your affection, communicate their caring with chocolate, pretty posies ... and maybe a nice dinner out.

We may all be “animals” in a way, but that’s a much more civilized communication than high-pitched, guttural screaming and flying fur.

And a Happy Valentine’s Day to all our beloved readers!

Joyce Bupp is a freelance writer in York County, Pennsylvania.