By Leah C. Dorman, DVM
I’ll bet you didn’t know that cows have super-powers. They certainly don’t look like a super hero – they don’t wear a cape (they’d eat it or their herdmates would) and it’s impossible to find a unitard to fit a four legged creature that weighs 1500 lbs. They don’t have X-ray vision and they can’t leap tall buildings in a single bound, although I have seen them jump over fences I never thought they could clear. Their super-power is taking things we humans can’t eat, like corn silage, hay or grass, and turning it into something delicious that we can eat, like butter, ice cream and yogurt.
But, what does it take to help these cows produce nutritious milk so we can enjoy all those scrumptious dairy products? The short answer is, farmers who take great care of their herds.
In order to maintain health and minimize stress, keeping cows comfortable is at the top of a dairy farmer’s chore list. As a veterinarian, I’ve seen numerous dairy farms, but I wanted to give you a quick look around the barn to give some examples of what I mean.
Stalls have clean soft bedding and are an appropriate size for the cow so they can stand or lie down easily. It’s important that the cows have good footing to prevent them from slipping.
Just like my kids want to have easy access to good food in the fridge, these cows need to have access to appropriate nutrition for their stage of milk production, as well as easy access to plenty of water. A cow drinks 30-50 gallons of water a day!
Good ventilation is important to keep cows cool not only when it’s hot, but all year around. This can be achieved through natural ventilation and/or mechanical, like fresh air inlets and the fans you see here. Some farms use water misters to keep their cows cool in warmer weather. Proper ventilation also helps decrease the spread of disease.
Part of keeping a cow comfortable is making sure she stays healthy, which is a top goal both to ensure animal welfare and to produce nutritious food that we feed our families. Proper nutrition, ventilation, sanitation, biosecurity, vaccination and antibiotics are all tools that can be used to maintain health.
Members of the animal health community – farmers, veterinarians, nutritionists and others involved with animal care – believe we have an ethical obligation to provide the best care for our livestock that we possibly can, which means using a variety of tools to keep cows healthy and comfortable.
Content created in partnership with The U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance.