A field of cowbell-equipped-cows may create a soothing soundscape of wind and chimes, but what’s soothing to us doesn’t translate to the cows. Though Christopher Walken and internet humor from over 14 years ago require more cowbell, it turns out the actual bovine after which the bells are named really hate the things.
A study was performed as part of a doctoral dissertation for the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich where agricultural scientist Julia Johns and a colleague measured the decibel levels of cowbells. The team attached 12-pound cowbells to over 100 cows across 25 locations around the country, and it turns out the cowbells can reach decibel levels of 113 — far above the legal limit of 85. The cowbells aren’t just over the legal limit, but reach a level of noise equivalent to a jackhammer or a chainsaw.
The team studied the cows reactions, and though the above video seems like pleasant ambient noise, the sounds may negatively affect the cows’ behavior and health. The duo found that the cows exposed to the cowbells chew their food for significantly less time than the cows without the bells, and some cows have even proven to have their hearing severely impaired.
The team does admit that the weight of the bells could also negatively affect the cows, but a slightly heavy cowbell necklace likely wouldn’t cause hearing impairment.
Farmers use the bells to locate cows grazing in pasture, but researchers have suggested replacing them with GPS trackers. However, the farmers claim that poor reception in the mountainous areas would make that solution difficult. Furthermore, the soundscape of cowbells ringing across Switzerland’s wilderness is iconic to both tourism and culture. If the cows are actually suffering, though, it might be time to focus on another iconic part of Swiss culture.