Cows become part of the family when you name them. Then they return that kindness and attention with more milk.
An award-winning research team from Newcastle, England, Drs.
Catherine Douglas and Peter Rowlinson, have shown that farmers who give
a cow a name and treat her as an individual can increase annual milk
production by almost 500 pints.
It was a breakthrough that was picked up by Harvard’s annual Ig
Nobel Prizes, which honor achievements that first make people laugh,
and then think.
A former dairy farmer I know called all his heifers “his ladies.”
And, yes, they all had names. Turns out he was not only treating them
with natural kindness but it was increasing his business too. (Years
later when he visited the herd, they recognized him.)
In fact, farmers interacting with their animals is straightforward
rather than sentimental. There’s a clear connection and caring between
the farmer and the animals (and plants) in his care. Think about it:
These are living, breathing creatures that you come in contact with
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Of course, in a factory setting it would be damn hard to care for one animal over another. But a small farm is different.
On a small farm you’re constantly engaging with your herd, flock or
gaggle. When I have been in the middle of a herd of cows taking photos
for Friend of the Farmer, I’ve been surrounded by dozens of cows
weighing from 200 to 1,000 pounds. These are big animals and yet the
experience is a remarkably peaceful. Some cows may run away initially
while others wander over to get their heads scratched. The one constant
is the sound of grass being cropped.
In approaching his herd of beef cattle, Allen Cockerline of Whippoorwill Farm
suggested that I initially keep a low profile, avoid direct contact,
and talk to the cows. He may have even suggested that I sing a song.
“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,” explained Dr. Douglas of Newcastle University. “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.”