Walking through rural areas, you have surely seen cows with bells. The tinkling of the bells can be heard from far away and is especially intense when the whole herd is on the move. Children in particular are interested in why the bells are ringing. The fact that the animals are provided with a cowbell, namely, has certain reasons.
The bells are for finding again
Cows with bells are found mainly in Switzerland, Austria and Germany. Also in Egypt and in Asia farmers keep their cattle together with the help of bell ringing. On large pastures, the cattle stand with a bell around their neck. If the cow moves, the bell sounds. This makes it easier for the owner to identify their location. The cowbell is useful for cattle farms that do not have a fence. Farmers can use it to better locate their herd.
Bells are especially useful in the following conditions:
Some weather conditions, such as fog, impair visibility. Especially in mountainous areas, dense high fog is not atypical. If the rancher cannot see his herd, at least the cows can be heard.
Even in darkness, the location of the herd is easier to spot with a bell. The working day of a cattle farmer usually starts early. Before the sun is up, important tasks are on the schedule. Two to three times a day, the farmer should check on his cattle. If the herd must be rounded up in the dark, the ringing of the cowbell is helpful.
In addition, runaways are not easily lost thanks to the sound of the bell. If the cow separated from the herd is behind dense vegetation or behind a hill, the animal can be easily found. The bell works practically like an acoustic transmitter. With each step, the bell sounds.
A multitude of bells sounding together create a widely audible ringing. Since herds consist of a few cattle, the volume can be correspondingly high. In the mountains, the sound is amplified by steep, rocky cliffs.
Deterring bears and wolves
The cowbell is not only used to retrieve the cattle. The ringing of the bells provides some protection against predators. Cows fall into the prey pattern of bears and wolves. If the animal is panicked and makes rapid movements, the sound of the bell can send the predator fleeing. A herd that is completely equipped with cowbells manages to make a very loud ringing. Many an inexperienced predator this puts in terror.
Protection from evil spirits and diseases
In some areas, a protective power is attributed to the cowbell. The bell is said to protect animals from evil spirits, storms, predators and snakes, fire and disease. Ornaments with saints and blessings are common. Since many embossments affect the sound of the cowbell, good models are little decorated.
In summer with bell to the pastures
In the Alps, farmers drive their cows to the pastures in the mountains in the summer. Before heading out to the vast meadows, they often equip their animals with bells. With typical herds of between 100 and 200 cattle, this is time-consuming work. When summer is over and the weather turns, the cows return to the sheltered barn. Before farmers take the cattle to their winter quarters, they remove the cowbells.
The cowbell as a tradition
The cowbell is now increasingly being replaced by GPS transmitters. Modern technology also simplifies the work in agriculture. To find the herd, the farmer only has to look at his cell phone. Proponents of the new possibilities are mainly animal rights activists, who see the technical alternative as an improvement for the animals’ lives. GPS transmitters produce no noise, weigh much less and disturb the cow only minimally. For many farmers in the mountains, however, the cowbell is considered an important tradition.
The timbre of a cowbell provides information about the animal that carries it. Listen more closely when you’re out in the Alps. The largest cowbell in the group has a dominant alpha animal. The farmer often equips his favorite cow with a particularly beautiful bell and a richly decorated band. Motifs from the owner’s family are common.
The cowbell conveys a sense of home and can be used as a recognition feature. The ringing of the herd can also have a calming effect and trigger a sense of well-being.
Differentiation between bells and swiss cowbell
Cowbells are distinguished from bells and swiss cowbell depending on their construction:
Cowbells are similar in appearance to church bells and are made by the same process. The bronze mini bells are made of tin-copper alloy and bring the sounds of half-high, high tone, bass and overtone.
swiss cowbell are heart-shaped and forged from iron. They have a rather tinny sound. Small willow taffes produce a bright sound, bulbous driving taffes produce a muffled sound.
In a cow herd, both types may be represented. In a cast bell, the sound is composed of various natural tones. The fundamental, including octaves below and above it, as well as the fifth and a diminished third, can be heard by listening closely. While the cowbell is sounding, the fiddle is making a clanging sound.
The making of cowbells is an ancient craft whose working method has hardly changed since the Middle Ages. While a fiddle must first be shaped by fire, hammering and welding, a bell is simply cast into shape. To do this, the metal alloy of copper and tin is heated to about 1200 degrees and filled into what is known as the bell mold. After cooling, the caster releases the bell from the sand mold and removes protruding parts.
Cow bells in various designs
The appearance of acoustic accessories for cattle is variable. Cowbells come in different sizes and with different alloys. In gold, silver and bronze tones, they hang from the necks of cows. The cowbell is also a popular souvenir from vacations in Alpine regions. Souvenir stores in tourist resorts usually have at least a small selection on sale.
Disadvantages of the cowbell
For the cows, the bells can bring disadvantages. The hanging on the neck interferes with feeding. Even though many animals can graze peacefully with bells, it would be easier without the sounding body. In addition, the ringing can interfere with cattle’s sensitive hearing. Large bells are not exactly light. The weight of the bell can be uncomfortable for the cow. Young animals in particular should not be equipped with a heavy cowbell, as this unnecessarily depletes their energy reserves.
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