Instead of going into the barn immediately after supper, I zoomed around the farmyard on my half-sized bike. Fast as I could pedal, I toured the main circle driveway and the back circle driveway between the machine shed and old house. Around and around I went. The minute I heard the the Surge vacuum pump in the barn turn on, I dropped my bike on the lawn and trotted across the yard to the milk house.
I loved being in the barn; the sound of the cows mooing, slurping water, sighing, the creak of their hooves as they shifted their weight. During milking chores, the barn cats came out looking for spilled milk. I liked sitting on the haymow stairway near the milk cans, playing with the mother cats and listening to the radio.
As far as I know, no one has taken credit for being the first person to install a radio in their cow barn. On our farm, it was my brother who placed a radio on one of the large overhead beams and plugged it in. Having music while doing chores made the work more pleasant. We joked about how the cows probably enjoyed listening to the music, too.
We weren’t wrong about that assumption. Since then, studies have found that cows listening to music with a slower tempo have a greater milk production than cows exposed to fast-tempo music. Most of the music that WDLB, our local radio station provided in the late 1950’s and early 1960, was perfect for that. Researchers think fast-tempo music stimulates adrenaline secretion which interferes with milk letdown.
Japanese studies have also showed that cows are 23% more likely to enter an automatic milking stall when music is playing. You may ask, “What sort of music did the researchers say that cows prefer?” Classical music of course, Beethoven, Mozart and Bach.
Music wasn’t invented by humans. Birds were singing long before mankind tried to imitate their aerial vocal flights. Avian music is delightful, unless you are serenaded at dawn by a bird outside your bedroom window when all you want to do is sleep.
The other morning, I happened to wake up just as the sky was slowly starting to lighten. A robin, probably sitting on a branch of the maple tree near my bedroom window was singing a dramatic-voiced greeting to the coming day. The bird’s beautiful trill reminded me of my daughter, who even as a small child was a night owl. She would read books into the wee hours of the night. One morning I asked her, “How long were you awake last night?”
She answered, “I put away my book when the birdies began to sing.”
From that memory, I forwarded to a memory of my husband Arnie. He had told me that the reason birds sing at dawn was to help plants to grow.
The idea that birdsong can help plants grow probably sounds ridiculous to most people, but there is science behind the concept. Studies show that gentle music with a higher pitch, like bird song, encourages plants to increase nutrient intake so they can grow faster. Some researchers think bird song boosts sap flow and plant hormones.
I found a book several years ago titled, The Secret Life of Plants. Sonic Bloom is described in this book as musical sounds designed to mimic the dawn chorus of bird song. The tone encourages plants to open their leaf stomata, which boosts their intake of morning dew and foliar fertilizers.
The early morning bird song wasn’t a problem for me since I am retired and don’t punch a time clock any more. I lazily drifted back to sleep with jumbled thoughts of classical music-loving cows, farmer birdies who make sure all their plants get back to work and let little girls know it was time to stop reading.
I still recall the big circle driveway, and the old house in back with the huge elm tree in front of it. And then watching the cows being milked. Your mom really loved the cardinals. Thanks for the memories and sharing your great insights. -Jim
Jim! It’s so nice to hear from you! The farm really was an idyllic place to grow up. I hope you and your family are well.