YOWW 19: Kulning: Calling Livestock in North America

Hi Worksongers! Up here in Maine the snow is almost melted from the woods but the pastures haven't quite greened up yet.  That still gives us a few weeks to practice up on the ancient Scandinavian art of kulning, or calling livestock with song.  In various parts of Scandinavia the tradition is called Kulning, kaukingkaukning, kulokkerkyrlokker or lockrop.  It's probably most familiar to the world with the swedish term "kulning" so we'll use that.

Traditionally farmers would call their cows, goats and other livestock using these high-pitched hollers, which would echo across the pastures and through the bordering woods and valleys.  The echoing noise was a signal for the livestock to follow the herder out to pasture or to return home in the evening.  The practice is typically associated with women, but there are some archival recordings of men kulning as well.  Here is a remarkable archival film recording the practice in the mid-20th century:

Archival Kulning

And as is the case with herding music throughout the world, the practical use of the song and the space and time available on pasture allowed the shepherds to develop this music into a fine art, which is performed on stage today by both women and men.


I had heard kulning was not really used in pastures today, but doing some web-sleuthing I found a video that included a swedish farmer demonstrating kulning with his flock:

Modern Day Kulning

Kulning uses an interesting approach to scales which includes half-tones and quarter tones, which exist between notes that are found in the western musical scale.  They're kind of like blues notes, and they carry a mournful, wistful quality.  I have heard that these notes were derived from the scales that are naturally made by the overtone reed flute sälgflöjt and that of the similar horns (made from actual animal horns) and the horn and reed flute tunes in the archival film seem to reinforce that idea.

In any case, it's a wild and wonderful art that you have to hear to understand.  A fascinating blend of practicality and beauty, form and function.  Productive fun?  Yes!

On worksongs.org today I made a kulning page that I have uploaded some examples on.  Check them out!

In addition to the videos I mention above, there are some other treats that I will probably add to over time.  So go check it out and pass this on to any friends you think would be interested.

Good luck with your own livestock this spring- and whatever you're singing don't be afraid to get out and holler.  If you give kulning a try let me know how your animals respond- and send me a clip of it in action!

All the best,


PS. This is the first "occasional weekly worksong" with images.  Did it work?  Did you like it?