A cowbell or cow bell is a bell worn by freely roaming livestock, so that they do not run away or wander off without being heard. While bells are used on various types of animals, they are typically referred to as "cowbells" due to their extensive use with cattle.
Cowbells also refer to a kind of pitched percussion instrument resembling a cowbell.
The bell is made of wood, iron, bronze, brass or copper, while the clapper is made of wood, metal or leather. The collar used to hold the cowbell was traditionally in leather or wood fiber and it had a special safety shape to prevent risks. The cowbells are used at least since Iron Age.
Most cowbells are made of thin and flat pieces of sheet metal completed with decorating labor. Some craftsmen's process were adopted by others craftsmen or communities sometime later but many cultures use process that themselves invented illiterate blacksmiths, shepherds, woodcarvers or herd keepers. The ornaments on the cowbell and the collar can show the skill of the artisan or the characteristics of the animal's owner but many times they have a supposed magical protective role for the animal. The use of some specific woods is sometimes more due to certain species are considered to have magical powers than its availability. Because the antiquity of some cowbells, its craftsmanship or its exoticism, they are subject to collecting market. There are collecting cowbell from Ancient Rome, Ancient Greece and many others ancient or contemporary artisanal handicraft countries.
The cowbell is a tool very common in Animal husbandry for guide in herds of grazing animals like goats, sheeps and cows, mainly in freely roaming animals in Europe and Mediterranean area, but extensively cowbells are very used in transhumance areas in almost whole world and by nomad pastoral tribes in Africa and Asia or by semi-nomadic people as Maasai located in Kenya and Tanzania. Historically Nomadic pastoralism is widespread mostly throughout regions of Earth with periodic pasture shortages and transhumance developed on every inhabited continent. American important transhumance areas are Western United States, Innerland of Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Perú and Bolivia.
In order to help guiding a herd or in order to help identify the herd to which these animals belonged, herdsmen placed these bells around the animal's neck. Every Animal guide have a different sound in its cowbell. Every particular sound is learned by the shepherd and the animals, and within a herd, each Animal guide is followed by a group. As the animals moved about the bell would ring, thus making it easier to know of the animal's whereabouts. In livestock they make possible to distinguish other peculiar features such as stud males, pregnant females or to trace the dominant leader of Animal group, this one is an important social characteristic between sheeps and cows because a female is usually which guides the group and shepherds have to identify leader females for driving herds. It was also said that for its sound they are useful for alarm on threats such as wolves, bears, etc.
In Southern Europe, domestic sheep herds are guided by cowbells and shepherd dogs. Many of those herds have several goats that guide the sheep flock, this is due to the superior intelligence of goats as guides. Goats and ewes that have recently given birth or about to give birth, often leave the herd. In prevention of this behavior or other difficulties they are being stored during the day in Parideras and taking them to graze at night. The cowbell helps locate them at all times.
Usually the cowbells have different names not only depending on the language used in the place of origin but also derived of its use on species, sex, age, and animal status. For example although in Spanish in Iberian peninsula they are named "cencerros" jointly and there are related loanwords from near languages (cigarron, esquella, sonaja...) used interchangeably, there are besides different names for every type of cowbell depending in use. They are named "truco" for stud males, "esquila" for female goat or ewe guides and esquileta for pregnant female and inmatures, these cowbells have different sound, shape and size.
The collar was traditionally in Europe a special type of collar (in Latin cannabŭla, and in some Romance languages canaula, canabla, cannabla or canyabla). It is a piece, usually of wood or leather, rolled on itself in "C" shaped surrounding the animal's neck. It was adjusted enough to put in the cowbell. They are used in Northern Spain, Northern Italy, Southern France, Pyrenean area and Alpine area.
Traditionally processing wood for these collars was complicated, the wood was needed to be removed from some specific tree species, and besides after removing from tree, bending wood into shape throug dip the strips in water a time to soften and bending to the shape of the animal's neck.
Many collars had geometric, pagan or Christian drawings always related with the ownership, luck, or prevention of spells avoiding witching and disease on the beasts and newborns. The symbols are crosses, quatrifoliums (clovers), rosettes and hexapetals.
Nowadays collars are mainly slices of leather or plastic, which adjust on the neck as if they were belts.
About 10,000 or 15,000 years ago, Paleolithic and Neolithic human cultures developed keep of herds and grazing practice. Consistently various settlements generated changes in their habits of life, culture and values and there were different tools used in those communities. However, regardless of the similarities, to understand handicrafts of these people who lived in antiquity is controversial. Some tools were made of non-durable materials and they are not conserved or very badly, but some others are bits and pieces made in stone or sea snail shell. It is know that these tools were used on animal's neck. Some animals were guided by the sound of bells, as mares and asses. Similar simple sound-making device bells share similarities with cowbells as jingle bells, handbells, agogôs, crotal bells... Truly recognizable cowbells are frequently found in archaeological excavations from Iron Age.
The Khoisan ethnic group practiced pastoralism for thousands of years in Africa. The Hittites and other members of the Anatolian family were pastoral cultures that came from a Near East mass migration sometime around 1900 BC with herds. Worldwide, a man's wealth is measured at least since that time by his cattle and his wives. Nowadays the Morran and Maasai take care of the cattle in a traditional way yet. In aerial view the sides of the Ngorongoro crater are dotted with cattle down the hillside.
In the Early Middle Ages, bells were mostly reserved for religious purposes. In the High Middle Ages to the 14th century, they became popular also in secular pageantry such as knightly tournaments. The earliest attestation of bells used for livestock dates to the late 14th to early 15th century (Grimm's Deutsches Wörterbuch s.v. "Kuhschelle" points to a 1410 mention in a Frankfurt archive; the OED lists 1440 as the earliest attestation of bell-wether, the leading sheep of a flock, on whose neck a bell is hung, and attributes the phrase "to bear the bell" in the sense "to take the first place", originally referring to the leading cow or sheep of a drove or flock to Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde, 1374). In the 15th century, a cow bell was worn only by the best and leading piece of livestock, and the wider distribution of the bell worn by livestock is a gradual process of the Early Modern period. Rabelais in the mid 16th century in his Gargantua and Pantagruel makes this explicit, stating that
- "such was the custom, to appear on the field wearing jingling garment, as the high priest wears when entering the sacristy; since the tournaments, that is, the contest of nobility, have been abolished, carters have taken the bells and hung them on their hacks" (cited after Grimm, s.v. "Schelle").
Swiss folklore reflects a period when a great Trychel was a rare and much-coveted item, only found in the deep country mines in the north. Thus, a legend of the Simmental tells how a young cowherd strays inside a mountain, and by a beautiful woman is offered the choice between a treasure of gold coins, a golden Trychel, and the fairy herself chooses the Trychel. A trychel (Alemannic Trychle, also spelled Trichel, Treichel, Treichle) is a large cow bell traditionally in use in Switzerland. In Southern Germany, the term is Kuhglocke. As opposed to regular cast metal bells, trychlen are made of hammered sheet metal. This results in a less clean, clanking sound, but at the same time results in a bell that is less heavy and thus easier to carry.
The last remaining Cow Bell manufacturer in the United States, Bevin Brothers Manufacturing, has made bells in East Hampton, CT since 1832.
In the spring, when the snowmelt is finished, villages send the cows with the cowherds to high alpine meadows to graze during the summer months. The event, called Alpaufzug, is celebrated in each village with a procession through the village into the high pastures. The cows are decorated with floral wreaths woven through the horns, and the best milk-producing cow in the village leads the procession wearing the largest bell. The bells are made in various sizes, and cows are awarded bells according the milk production of the year.
In the fall, the event is repeated, but this time called an Alpabzug, as the animals return from the high meadow. The best cows (called the Kranzkuh) from each herd lead the procession through the village. The traditional festival is called Viehscheid in Southern Germany, and has various other names in the Alpine regions.
Trychel customs 
- Oberhasli: Ubersitz
- Küssnacht: Chlausenjagd, a custom related to the Wild Hunt with Saint Nicholas replacing Wotan.
- Urnäsch: Sylvesterkläuse
- Laupen: Archetringele
- Einsiedeln: Einsiedeln carnival has the characters «Trichler» and «Ustrichler» bearing Trycheln.
See also 
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- "cowbell". The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English 2007. Oxford University Press. Retrieved November 4, 2007.
- Lienert, Meinrad (1915). "Die güldene Kuhschelle". Schweizer Sagen und Heldengeschichten (Stuttgart).
- "BevinBells Manufacturing Company".
- Spicer, Dorothy Gladys (1958). "Twelve Festivals of Switzerland". Festivals of Western Europe (The H. W. Wilson Company).
- Larkin, Leah (August 25, 2005). "Alps: When the cows come home, it's party time". Stars and Stripes.
- Robert Schwaller, Treicheln, Schellen, Glocken (1996; 2005 addendum).