One of the questions many customers ask me is “Are your cows happy?”
I would say that cows have 3 emotions – anger, contentedness, and stressed. Each individual cow is usually predisposed to one of the three.
Angry cows, much like Angry Birds, are not welcome on the farm. The last thing a farmer needs is a 1500 lb cow (or a 2500 lb bull) with an angry attitude. Lots of farmers have lost their lives to animals like that.
Stressed animals develop this trait over time. They are more susceptible to stress and it shows in their body language and behaviors. Any type of pressure on them and they show signs of stress. Even being out in the field 200 feet away, the animal moves as far away as possible from the stress. When we have to sort cattle, the stressed animals stick their heads up in the air and their ears perk right up. We call them ‘Heads Up’ because their heads are up in the air and their ears are straight up. With these animals, you have better keep your head up and keep a watchful eye so they don’t run you over the fence. Believe it or not, this is a genetic trait. Stressed (or wild) mommas make stressed calves. We don’t keep these cattle on the farm.
Happy cows are the contented ones. Peaceful is the first word I would use to describe these animals. They are content with their grass or hay, content with their water, and content with their surroundings and environment. Time seems to move slower for these animals as if they do not have a care in the world. You can see the contentedness in how they move, walk, run and lay down. It permeates through them.
While cattle are predisposed to one of the three traits, they can move back and forth between them. The most peaceful cow can become as angry as a bear if a coyote or some other predator appears to be threatening her calf. If a cow thinks you are a predator trying to hurt her calf, watch out!
So are the cows here on Hoven Farms happy cows?
We do everything possible to make for happy cows. We aim for daily moves to fresh grass so the animals have the best feed. Imagine how happy you would be if everyday you got to go to a new huge buffet with all sorts of new food to try to eat. That is the life of a cow on our farm.
It is all a big cycle. The daily moves make for more contented cattle. The cattle eat grass and stimulate the microbiology of the soil. The cattle move to the next paddock making them more content. The grass in the paddock they leave behind starts to regrow, with the old grass trampled down protecting the soil and microbiology from the hot sun. The trampled grass forms a protective covering that protects the precious water in the soil from evaporating. It keeps the temperature of the soil less variable throughout the day. The manure and urine the cows leave behind add to the bacteria and microbiology of the soil. This all works together to grow healthier grass for the cows to eat the next time they come to the paddock.
The managed interaction between the cows and the grass leads to more happy cows and more healthy grass for them to eat.
Everything on the farm works together for good.