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Burden of tradition Study shows cows bothered by bells

Switzerland’s cow bell-toting custom is coming under scrutiny in the light of new research from the federal technology institute ETH Zurich. (SRF/

Scientists have proven that cowbells have an impact on cows’ wellbeing. As part of a PhD study involving more than 100 cows on 25 farms across the country, animals were fitted with 5.5 kilogram bells plus monitors to gauge the sound level, the cows’ movements, heart rate and eating habits. Tests were carried out over three days.

Bell sounds were played at different volumes to cows feeding in barns. Some animals were fitted with bells that didn’t ring, to see how they reacted to the weight. Both had a negative effect on their eating behaviour. They ate for shorter periods and chewed less. It’s not clear whether the weight of the bells or the sound of them had more influence. The effect on milk production was not measured.

The loudness of the bells was 100-113 decibels. The Swiss Accident Insurance Fund says if a human were exposed to 100 decibels for eight hours per day, it would have serious health consequences, and cows are more sensitive to sound than humans.

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