For whom the Swiss cow bell tolls

October 18, 2014, 3 Comments

Männlichen cows

Cow bells are one of the sounds of the Swiss Alps but what about the cow? Up until now no-one ever asked the cows if they want ringing in their ears all day long; while we might enjoy the peaceful clonking of bells across the valley, for them it’s probably a pain in the ears. Now a new study has shown that it might affect their eating habits.

Scientists from ETH Zurich studied 100 cows across the country, fitting them with bells and monitors to gauge the link between the bell and the cow. And the study showed that both the weight and the sound of the bell had an influence: the cows ate less.

The bells rang at over 100 decibels, which in human terms would be like having a pneumatic drill beside your head for eight hours a day. Sadly the study didn’t look at the effect on milk production, as that is probably the only thing that would make farmers take notice.

As it is, the report was dismissed as being from townies who don’t understand the countryside. The urban-rural divide is ever-present in many Swiss political issues, whether that’s second homes or cow bells.

Cow with bellThen there’s tradition. As the farmer in the video above says ‘A cow without a cow bell is not a real cow’ and many Swiss who agree with him. Tinkling cow bells are up there with yodelling and alphorns as one of the sounds of Switzerland.

The bells do serve a useful function as a way of finding the cows in the mist, though some might see that as old-fashioned in the days of GPS. But I love them just for their restful melody.

Sometime soon there will probably be an initiative to limit or ban cow bells in order to protect the cows, no doubt from some well-meaning animal rights group. How sad it would be if the sounds of silence were all you could hear on an Alpine walk.

3 Comments on "For whom the Swiss cow bell tolls"

  1. Robert Kingdon Saturday October 18th, 2014 at 10:25 PM · Reply

    This is very interesting and gave me more understanding of my Grandfather. As a young man I collected a very large traditional cow bell from my Grandfather’s machine shed. It did not have a ‘clanger’ but instead a heavy piece of wire. My Grandpa Jake was well known as a herdsman and horseman. We all knew how much he liked his charges. There was only one bell in the field with the herd and that bell had a refined and kindly voice.

  2. Rachel Monday October 20th, 2014 at 06:42 PM · Reply

    This response has nothing to do with the cows, although I too find the Swiss cows, bells and all, charming. Even those bulky fighting cows are beautiful – but I digress. Delightful prose that you produce; made my day to find your website. Which occurred because I’m trying to figure out the Abonnement Général requirements and the bleue macaron parking thingy. Because we just leased an apartment in Coppet for 12 months while my husband is working at CERN. We had a similar 18-month stay 2009-2010 and fell head-over-heels in LOVE with Switzerland. A reaction reinforced on a daily basis by the fact that we lived on the French side of CERN for that sojourn. (jfyi Ric is a citizen of the Netherlands, a land to which he has no desire to return – but Switzerland, Ah YES!)! I anticipate that you can relate to his reaction. Your books are a MUST. Looking forward to your newsletter. With every good wish, Rachel

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