Elk NetworkHow does a cow tell her calf apart from others?

Conservation | October 26, 2017

Do you think picking your kid out of a group running around on the playground is hard? Try finding them in a herd of almost identical look-alikes. Since calves aren’t named at birth, as far as we know, a strong calf-cow bond is what mom depends on when she needs to find her little bundle of joy.

Newborn calves are separated from their mother at birth to hide from predators, so a connection must be established right away. Sound, smell and touch are what a cow recognizes when identifying her calf. It begins with the first lick after birth, which is repeated to strengthen the bond.

Pheromones provide unique olfactory signals that act as internal receptors for mom, and help her differentiate her baby from all the others.

After leaving her young calf well-hidden, mom will often head out to graze, returning periodically to make contact and mew softly. The cow gradually leads her calf along by repeating sounds and touching noses. When a calf wants its mom, it will and squeak from its hiding spot.

Since cows only spend a small amount of time with their calf early on, mostly just to feed it , bonding time is crucial. In that sea of little spotted ungulates, a cow will almost always be able to pick out her calf by its scent and sound.