Life's Little Mysteries

Do cows really lie down when it's about to rain?

A cow in a field
Is this cow standing up because of an upcoming rain storm? (Image credit: Keith Weller)

How can you accurately predict if it’s going to rain? Just check a cow pasture. If all the cows are lying down, a rainstorm is coming — or so this old wives' tale claims. 

Believers have schemed up several different explanations for why our bovine friends would hit the ground in anticipation of a storm, and many of them sound equally plausible. The simplest is that cows can sense increasing air moisture and will plop down to preserve a dry patch of grass. 

Another theory states that cows lie down to ease their stomachs, which are supposedly sensitive to changes in atmospheric pressure brought on by rainfall. The most complicated explanation suggests that cow legs are micro-porous structures that rapidly absorb moisture. As the relative humidity builds from an oncoming downpour, the cow’s legs will absorb more and more moisture from the air, softening until they can no longer support the weight of the cow

But is there any weight behind this tale? 

Not likely – cows lie down for many reasons, and there's no scientific evidence that rain is one of them. As the Farmer’s Almanac says, "Cows lying down in a field more often means they're chewing their cud, rather than preparing for raindrops." 

And just think: If weather predictions were made based on the actions of cows, the forecast would always be grim.

Joseph Castro
Live Science Contributor
Joseph Bennington-Castro is a Hawaii-based contributing writer for Live Science and He holds a master's degree in science journalism from New York University, and a bachelor's degree in physics from the University of Hawaii. His work covers all areas of science, from the quirky mating behaviors of different animals, to the drug and alcohol habits of ancient cultures, to new advances in solar cell technology. On a more personal note, Joseph has had a near-obsession with video games for as long as he can remember, and is probably playing a game at this very moment.