Scientists at Newcastle University in the UK have shown that cows produce more milk when they are treated as an individual.
The study found that on dairy farms where each cow was called by her name the overall milk yield was higher than on farms where the cattle were herded as a group.
“Just as people respond better to the personal touch, cows also feel happier and more relaxed if they are given a bit more one-to-one attention.” explains Dr Catherine Douglas, who works in the School of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development.
“What our study shows is what many good, caring farmers have long since believed. By placing more importance on the individual, such as calling a cow by her name or interacting with the animal more as it grows up, we can not only improve the animal’s welfare and her perception of humans, but also increase milk production.”
Dairy farmer Dennis Gibb says he believes treating every cow as an individual is “vitally important”: “They aren’t just our livelihood – they’re part of the family. We love our cows here at Eachwick and every one of them has a name. Collectively we refer to them as ‘our ladies’ but we know every one of them and each one has her own personality.”
The study looked at how farmers’ attitudes to their cows influenced milk production. The researchers questioned 516 UK dairy farmers about how they believed humans could affect the productivity, behaviour and welfare of dairy cattle.
Almost half – 46 per cent – said the cows on their farm were called by name and those who called their cows by name had a 258 litre higher milk yield than those who did not.
Sixty six per cent of farmers said they “knew all the cows in the herd” and 48 per cent agreed that positive human contact was more likely to produce cows with a good milking temperament.
Almost 10 per cent said that a fear of humans resulted in a poor milking temperament.
Dr Douglas added: “Our data suggests that on the whole UK dairy farmers regard their cows as intelligent beings capable of experiencing a range of emotions.
Placing more importance on knowing the individual animals and calling them by name can – at no extra cost to the farmer – also significantly increase milk production.”
The clip below shows dairy cows clearly enjoying their first taste of freedom after being let out of their shed after a long confinement during winter weather.
Broadcaster and farmer John Humphrys has said of this behaviour: “They tear about the field, kicking their legs into the air …For six months they have lived in sheds, slept in stalls, stood on concrete. Now, once again, they have the grass beneath their feet. They seem, quite literally, to be full of the joy of spring. It lifts the spirits to watch them.”
Click here to watch a wonderful clip of a highly emotional re-uniting of a mother cow and her calf.
- Bertenshaw, C and Rowlinson, P 2009 Exploring Stock Managers’ Perceptions of the Human-Animal Relationship on Dairy Farms and an Association with Milk Production. Anthrozoos: A Multidisciplinary Journal of The Interactions of People & Animals, Volume 22, Number 1, March 2009 , pp. 59-69(11)