You may well have heard the country people say, “If the cows are a layin’ don’t bother fishin’,” and wondered what they were talking about. First you should know that simple folk are not particularly picky about their grammar. Our problem is with the word “layin’” or “laying.” It is hens, of course, that are commonly “laying” or perhaps geese if there is music and we are near Christmas-time. Cows are “lying” in the sense that they are recumbent cattle, and not in the sense that they are stretching the truth. (Cows hold no truck with prevaricators. Cows have just one word for fibbers and that word is “moo.”) So , anyway, we are speaking here of a reclining cow: an immaculate, supine bovine.
So how could this possibly connect to fishin’ (fishing)?
Cows most often recline before and during inclement weather. Those with horns use them as natural lightning rods attracting the fierce electrical fury on behalf of the other cattle, but they need to be lying down, “grounded” as the scientists put it, to do so. Truly one of the most thrilling sights in the American farmlands is the spectacle of a cow absorbing a lightning bolt with its horns, rolling it into a kind of buzz-ball shape between the tines and tossing it to other horned cows in the pasture until at last it dissipates and vanishes with a soft *pop*.
Fishing is poor during and just following a storm because the rain adds so much extra food through runoff, and this competes with an angler’s bait. Got it? Ah hah! So because the cows are lying down, the farmers know a storm must be coming, and therefore, forget the fishing for right now.
Now you may be saying to yourself, Dude, you missed the point. So what if the cows play with lightning? We’ve all seen them do that. How do the cattle know to go to ground in the first place? How does a cow know it is going to storm?
Well first, Johnny Fidget, you might try being a little less of a prick and a bit more patient. I can wait all day. You know? Okay? Good.
Meteorologists use barometers to gauge chances of a storm. Mother nature is no less clever. The sensitivity of cattle to barometric pressure is well known to stock men and dairy farmers. This same animal whose hide we wear, whose milk we drink, whose flesh we devour, and whose cow patties can be cured and brewed into a potent tea that will enlarge the male penis with absolutely no side effects has been hallowed throughout history for its amazing versatility.
The network of capillaries on the cow’s udder (called cussicles) expand and contract relative to pressure in the atmosphere. Because the cow’s teats are arranged by nature in the classic “map cross” of north, south, east, and west, an experienced dairyman can determine the direction of a storm’s approach from simple stream thickness.
This isn’t anything new, either. Ancient seamen considered cattle on board to be good luck. Beyond predicting storms, a horned cow can function as a pretty good sextant in a pinch. (However, attempts during the early days of aviation to strap cattle to bi-planes as makeshift altimeters all ended in tragedy as cattle are notoriously poor wing-walkers).
So you see, cattle lie down before a storm because their cussicles ache, and resting their udders on the cool earth is a relief.
Since this happens only during instances of low barometric pressure, you can understand where we get the expression: “the cattle are lowing.”