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Saying, "Hello," to a Scottish Highlander heifer (photo courtesy of S. Laughlin)

Every tot knows that cows go “moo,” but there's a little more to it than that. The soft chortle-moo of mother to baby is distinct from the growl-moo of one bull challenging another, which differs from impatient-moos of cattle waiting to be fed. Continuous mooing at 2 in the morning usually means a mother is calling to a missing calf.

But a cow's first resort is usually non-vocal communication. The best way to understand a cow is to learn body language. Is her head lowered, did she swing her horns at you, or did she kick? Here are some conversational behaviors that you might find helpful when talking to cows.

1. “Hello.” When two cows meet, they each stretch their necks and sniff the other. So if you want to introduce yourself, hold out a hand just a few inches from the cow's nose. Cows are curious and will usually step forward to sniff the hand. Let the cow come to you; don't break the spell by reaching to touch her nose. Would you like a stranger suddenly stroking your nose? Didn't think so.

2. “Get lost!” Some cows want to socialize, some don't. If you've said, “hello,” and the cow swings her head at you as if she is brushing you off, leave her alone. She doesn't want to talk right now, so move on to another cow.

3. “Ahhhh!” Once you know she's receptive, try a back rub. Cows love that. Even the meanest cow will dip her head to the ground and stand still if you rub her back. She especially enjoys being scratched where her horns can't reach, like the top of her tail or the middle of her back. Cow's hides are thick, and a vigorous scratching will win her heart.

4. “More scratching!” Cows love to have their chests and necks massaged, too. Topper, one of my oxen, will search me out for neck rubs. He could stand for hours, resting his head on my shoulder while I rub his chest.

5. “Hey!” All cows will kick if startled. Don't sneak up on a cow. Let her know you are approaching and move to her side so she can see you.

Now you know basic Mooolish — not enough to order a meal or book a hotel room, but enough to get acquainted with my bovine friends.

If you'd like to try it out and learn some more, come to the Miles Smith Farm Cuddle a Cow open house on Saturday, April 13, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. My cows will be happy that you know their language. But if you want them to be ecstatic, bring carrots.

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Carole Soule is co-owner of Miles Smith Farm, where she raises and sells pastured pork, lamb, eggs and grassfed beef. Contact her at cas@milessmithfarm.com.

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