The Scandinavian vocal technique used to herd cattle is kulning, and it has echoed throughout Sweden since ancient times.
The purpose of kulning is a way for women to call the cows home at the end of the day.
This sound is not just a musical expression; it is a message sent to cattle that echos through the mountains. It is melodic with short phrases of music, and it is, unfortunately, close to being a lost art.
Haunting Calls of Kulning
In medieval times, farmers let their livestock graze freely in remote mountain areas. Only the women tended to these animals while living in isolation away from the village. The animals would graze during the day quite far from the cottages, and the women had to call them home each evening.
Women developed the kulning to amplify the voice so the sound would carry and echo through the mountain area. The music made can get up to 125 decibels, which is considerably loud and eerily beautiful. Therefore, a cow can be five kilometers away and still hear the call to come home.
Sing Until the Cows Come Home
What is somewhat unusual about kulning is the reaction of the cows. They tend to come running when they hear the kulning song. Also, families often had their own variation of kulning, which the cows would learn. It is known that cows can respond to the kulning of the family who takes care of them. Cows tend to feel loyalty to those who tend to them.
Also, there tends to be at least one cow in a heard that is clever enough to understand the call. Once that one cow reacts, the rest tend to follow by running towards the sound.
You can watch this video to hear the beautiful music that calls cows home.
Young women in the family learn from their elders, but they often add their own flair to the song. These days, kulning is also taught in a classroom setting, which helps preserve the art. When asked about kulning, women who still practice the art are proud of the skill. It is a profound musical expression that serves a necessary function in life.