One of the top priorities we have is to create an environment for our cows that is comfortable. Over the last 20 years, we have been dedicating more time and resources to promoting cow comfort. It is one of the easiest ways to increase milk production. Happy, comfortable, and healthy cows produce more milk. Not only is it the right thing to do, promoting better welfare is good for our business. You and I prefer variety, but cows prefer consistency, routines that they can predict.
Our job is to create a low-stress environment. We create that low-stress environment by giving all our cows free access to food and water, a dry place to lay down, and a calm relaxing setting. Housing our cows in our barns makes this possible. We can protect them from predators and weather, and have feed and water readily available for them 24/7. Today’s barns are designed around the needs of the cow, and how we can best manage her need for a comfortable surrounding.
Creating a low-stress environment also involves managing the fellow cows she is with. Amongst the herd, each cow has there place and fellow cows they are more comfortable with. We use to manage the herd in a way where we would be moving cows all around the farm. Everything would be the same, barn design, and diet, but once we moved her, she would produce less milk. Milk production is a quick indicator of stress. Now knowing this, we only move a cow to a different group when needed, trying to keep her with the same group of cows always. Cows like to be with friends.
Overall on the farm, we want the environment to be calm. We make sure that every one that is around the cows moves slowly and refrains from yelling. When we are calm around the cows, they are also quiet. As cows thrive on consistency, we want to make sure they know what to expect around us.
A big part about being comfortable is being healthy; we as dairy farmers are reliant on healthy cows. We promote good health through proper nutrition; not all our cows are on a grass-fed diet, in fact, the majority are on a precisely balanced diet that is designed to fit their needs. If you read our post about building a diet for a modern dairy cow, you’ll learn that the caloric needs of a cow have changed over the years. We are creating diets that balance out what she needs for Protein, Energy, Fibre and Fat.
During milking, it is imperative that we make sure the cow is comfortable. If she is stressed, she will not milk properly. We work with our staff to ensure that every time the cow visits the milking parlour, it is an enjoyable experience for her. Part of that enjoyability is her ability to know what to predict what is going to happen, so here again, we make sure the routine is consistent. She is also milked with others in her herd. Once again, cows like to be with other cows.
Thoughts on Animal Welfare
When human traits are given to an animal, it is called anthropomorphism. We do this to many non-human objects as well, we give hurricanes human names and human emotions, and this is done, so information is more relatable. Anthropomorphizing animals has its place, too, but we need to be careful with it how we use it. When it comes to animal welfare, giving human emotions can be a great motivator because we can relate better. Anthropomorphism becomes dangerous when we use it as the base of our decisions. Instead of objective facts from research and experience. When we make a decision about cow comfort, it is strictly based on what is best for her. All good farmers what to see their cows happy.
Cow comfort and animal welfare are paramount on our farm and all farms. It is our priority to make sure that our cows are well cared for in an environment that is comfortable, stress-free, and enjoyable.