You may never have seen a bovine beaming from ear to ear. But rest assured, your cows have feelings. And those feelings can have a big impact on milk production. Numerous research suggests that happy cows produce more of the white stuff. Cows that are less stressed produce less cortisol - the stress hormone - which interferes with milk let down. So what can you do to make your herd happier and improve milk production?
What can you do to make your dairy herd happier?
Unsurprisingly, making and maintaining a happy herd comes down to good animal welfare. It’s about getting the basics right from calfhood to old age. Great husbandry may even add an extra lactation cycle to each of your cows. Here are seven ways to maintain a happier dairy herd.
Know them by name
Are you good with names? Let’s hope so. Scientists at Newcastle University found in 2013 that dairy farmers may be able to add 500 pints to each of their cow’s annual milk yield simply by giving them a name. It may sound farfetched, but the science is sound. Naming cows is correlated with improved human behaviour around cattle.
Ensure a good calfhood
Have you heard of a cow called Vega from the Swedish island of Öland? She is semi-legendary in the cow community! Vega regularly gave 25kg every day and was single-hoofedly responsible for producing 156 tonnes of the white stuff. That’s comfortably over 500% more than the average lifetime yields of most dairy cows.
The cow’s owner puts it down to good welfare. Plain and simple. A lot of emphasis was put on ensuring Vega had a good calfhood. She was treated and cared for from the moment of birth. Other research has shown that cows that are visited frequently during rearing go on to produce significantly higher milk yields.
Mitigate against the risk of diseases
Another factor that made Vega so eye-poppingly prolific was her consistent ability to get pregnant rapidly after calving. She was incredibly fertile - and that came down to an absence of common diseases such as mastitis and lameness. Follow vaccination programs and maintain clean and hygienic conditions on your dairy farm.
Ensure housing is clean and comfortable
Would you be at your happiest if you were forced to live in housing that was cold, dirty and damp? Of course not. The same is true for cowkind too. Ensure your winter housing is clean, comfortable and well-maintained.
Keeping your cows happy through food doesn’t mean giving them unlimited supplies of forage and cereals. It’s about ensuring they get the right nutrients at the right time. And one of the most important nutrients of all is fat - the correct intake and type of which has been proven to increase milk yields, boost milk fat content and enhance fertility.
Do not underestimate a dairy cow’s thirst. Each of the cows in your dairy herd needs to guzzle around 60 litres of water per day. High-yielders may get through as much as 100 litres. Dehydration negatively affects mood, energy levels and milk yields. So make sure your herd has regular access to plenty of clean drinking water at key points across your dairy site.
Over to you...
Thousands of books have been penned about the elusive search for happiness in humans. Thankfully with cowkind things are a little more straightforward. Good welfare and that extra little bit of TLC is all it takes to spread joy on your dairy farm, which in turn can have a hugely positive impact on milk yields. What’s good for them is good for you.