When the Cows Come Home

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“… until the cows come home.”

It's probably a phrase that you've heard used before. Not often, but I'm sure you've heard it.

The phrase is usually used to mean “a long time,” or to refer to being out really late. (For example, if you're going to party until the cows come home, you're probably going to have a crazy late night.) But do you actually know where the phrase comes from?

Back when cows were sent out to pasture each day away from the farm, they usually would not return to be milked until the wee hours of the morning. Hence the phrase.

I personally just thought it was an antiquated phrase — cows don't really “come home” anymore, right?

Well actually they do!

Viscri, Romania

In the small village of Viscri, Romania, I got to witness “when the cows come home” for myself. We had jut finished a delicious home-cooked meal when our hosts shoo'd us outside and told us we would want to see this daily tradition.

Viscri, Romania

In Viscri, the cows (and goats and horses and sometimes sheep) are brought home each evening around 8 p.m. for milking.

The shepherds herd the animals from the fields to the main street in Viscri, and then the animals take themselves home. Literally. They mosey down the street, stopping for a bite of grass here and there, and eventually turn in at their farms.

Viscri, Romania

The animals have done it so many times (and are so ready to be milked) that no real “herding” need to be done at all.

Viscri, Romania

It's entertaining to watch, and a perfect illustration of present-day village life in Romania.

Did you know the cows actually still “come home” like this in some parts of the world?


"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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38 Comments on “When the Cows Come Home

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  1. I’m from Romania and I still remember summers at my grandma’s house waiting for the cows to come home…hanging on the fence, playing with the other kids. It was a carefree time, far, far away from any cars or modern noises… The best part was having their still warm milk to wash dinner down with.

    It’s a bit of a funny and fascinating scene at the same time watching those cows go home. If it was late night, you woulda thought they were out drinking at the pasture bar!

    I did not know they ever came home by themselves. Must have been interesting to witness!

      Yes it was definitely something different to see! Instead of TV, we watched cows. Haha.

    I so needed this… it made me laugh so hard. This reminded me of India and all the cows I saw all over the country. I had no clue about the phrase and have heard it a few times, but now it make sense. Crazy that they just come back on their own. Cows are so much fun to watch when they are roaming freely.

      Aww, glad I could make you laugh, Jaime! And yes, it IS crazy that they just mosey on home on their own… love it!

    I love this story and the pictures of the cows coming home. I don’t know why, but it makes me think of my dog.

      Lol does your dog resemble or act like a cow? ๐Ÿ˜‰ Glad you liked the post! It was a fun evening.

    Such a detailed story with a photo coverage ๐Ÿ˜‰

    I also have good memories from my grandmother’s village. One might be surprised how intelligent cows are (I am not talking about Chick-Fil-A’s cows). And to add my 2 cents, every herd of cows (local group in a village or farm) has a cow-leader (usually one of the oldest cows) which leads the herd when the cows move long distance to pasture or home or between pastures.

    Cows seem to be smarter than many people… at least the people I know, that never make it home that easy.

    With those bovines ranging so freely, I imagine you had to look out for their “products” everywhere you walked. ๐Ÿ™‚

    This is such a cool thing to see. One thing I’m curious about, in terms of the etymology of your title phrase: you say that in the olden days, the cattle would stagger home in the wee hours of the morning. But nowadays they come home much earlier, at 8 pm or so. That’s pretty geriatric of them. ๐Ÿ˜€ Relatedly, I was wondering — when you were there it was the summertime, with lots of daylight hours. Do the cows still come home at 8 pm in the wintertime, when it would be nearly pitch-black in such a rural area?

    Finally: Do some of the cows not make it back with the others, and end up doing a walk of shame the next morning?

      Yes, you did have to be careful where you stepped! ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Nowadays, cows are milked more often, I think. They come “home” in the evening to be milked, then are milked again in the morning before going out to pasture. I have no idea if the timing is still the same in the winter! Actually, they probably don’t go out to pasture in the winter – there wouldn’t be any grass for them to eat!

      And as for the cow “walk of shame” (haha), I think the herders make sure no one is left behind.

      In the winter, the cows are kept on the farm all day long and fed with hay. Only in the summer they are sent out to pasture each day on the green fields away from the farm and come back in the evening.

    We have a lot of cows roaming the streets of small cities of Indonesia too, but this is unique because the setting is very sub-urban, while our small cities are still village like with a lot of fields and open space. Nice to know cows aren’t afraid of the the sub-urban life too ๐Ÿ˜€

      Think of all the cows roaming around in larger cities in India! I don’t think they’re afraid of or phased by very much. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Its the first time I am hearing the phrase. And again the post reminds me of India, here also the situation is quite similar. In Hinduism, Cows are worshipped as it is believed that all Gods and Goddesses reside in a Cow. Beautiful post.

      Well you learned a new phrase today then, Arti! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Love this! It actually reminds me of the goats and goatherders I ran into in the mountains above Mittenwald Germany. You can’t buy this kind of cultural experience!

      No, you definitely can’t put a price on something like this. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Great phrase! I’ve heard it, but I must confess, I didn’t know the meaning of it! Cows are so smart! It’s incredible!

    So fun – definitely not something I’ve seen anywhere I’ve lived!

      Me neither! So it was definitely interesting to see.

    This is adorable, I’d love to visit a place where the cows come home.

      Well, get yourself to Viscri! Guaranteed to see them come home there. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    His Majesty Prince Charles of Wales actually bought a house in Viscri ๐Ÿ™‚ he often can be seen there

    Thank you Amanda for youre kind words.Also i would like to recommend with your permission :

    Transfagarasan road : https://youtube.com/watch?v=YQv-370jez8

    Transalpina road : https://youtube.com/watch?v=98jLMAEvlKs

    and of course the Danube Delta : https://youtube.com/watch?v=hoIplATlRH8

      Yes, I was told that Prince Charles has a house in Viscri (and actually it was pointed out to us when we were there), and I admit that I didn’t believe it at first. So cool, though. Clearly he recognizes how great Romania is, too!

    I always say Romania starts where the asphalt ends and that’s the future I predict for a part of the Romanian tourism. I like to believe these villages will stay frozen in time exactly like now.

      I kind of hope they do – they really are the heart of Romania.

    I just discovered this blog searching reviews about a documentary about Romanians.. Anyways I want to leave a reply about this topic “when the cows come home”. I’m a Romanian, born in Bucharest ( over 30 years ago ) but raised at the country side until the age of 7 and until the age of 14 spend all my summers at the country side, going from one grandmother to another. I always wanted to discover more outside Romania, travel outside Romania and I was fortunate enough I could do that. Now, reading this article and seeing all the pictures i remember my experience at grandma’s house about the cows coming home. Indeed, back in the days all the cows came back home ๐Ÿ™‚ I remember my grandma woking up at 5:00 AM because she had to take the cows from home ( like you take dogs for a walk in a leash ) to the top of the hill where the grass was fresh and green and she just left both of the cows there… Around 7 PM the cows came back home to be milked, to rest and sleep… and this happened every day.

    Another interesting method is having a dog that guards the animals, my other grandma had lots of birds: geese, ducks, turkeys and a watch dog. I named it “The bear” because it was a huge dog – a mixture between a stray dog and a shepherd dog. So his task was to guard the house, chase ferrets that came by the house to kill the birds and also go out find our birds and bring them home.

    These are few stories and experiences I grew up with, this is normality at the country side in Romania. I am happy to see that there are still places / villages in Romania doing this.

    Thank you for your story and pictures.

      Thank you so much for sharing your story, Simona! It’s funny the little things that make us feel nostalgic, isn’t it?

    Well, this is such a nice story. Romania is my home country and your article reminds my of my childhood, when I was waiting every evening in front of our house to see and count the cows. Unfortunately this tradition is dying slowly.

      Watching it definitely made me feel as if I’d stepped back in time.

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