Thursday, January 29, 2009
Giving a cow a name and treating her as an individual with “more personal touch” can increase milk production, so says a scientific research published in the online “Anthrozoos,” which is described as a “multidisciplinary journal of the interactions of people and animals”.
The Newcastle University‘s School of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development’s (of the Newcastle University Faculty of Science, Agriculture and Engineering) researchers have found that farmers who named their dairy cattle Ermintrude, Daisy, La vache qui rit, Buttercup, Betsy, or Gertrude, improved their overall milk yield by almost 500 pints (284 liters) annually. It means therefore, an average-sized dairy farm’s production increases by an extra 6,800 gallons a year.
“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,” said Dr Catherine Douglas, lead researcher of the university’s School of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development. “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,” she added.
Drs Douglas and Peter Rowlinson have submitted the paper’s conclusion: “What our study shows is what many good, caring farmers have long since believed. Our data suggests that, on the whole, UK dairy farmers regard their cows as intelligent beings capable of experiencing a range of emotions.” The scientific paper also finds that “if cows are slightly fearful of humans, they could produce [the hormone] cortisol, which suppresses milk production,” Douglas noted. “Farmers who have named their cows, probably have a better relationship with them. They’re less fearful, more relaxed and less stressed, so that could have an effect on milk yield,” she added.
South Norfolk goldtop-milk producer Su Mahon, one of the country’s top breeder of Jersey dairy herds, agreed with Newcastle’s findings. “We treat all our cows like one of the family and maybe that’s why we produce more milk,” said Mrs Mahon. “The Jersey has got a mind of its own and is very intelligent. We had a cow called Florence who opened all the gates and we had to get the welder to put catches on to stop her. One of our customers asked me the other day: ‘Do your cows really know their names?’ I said: I really haven’t a clue. We always call them by their names – Florence or whatever. But whether they really do, goodness knows,” she added.
The researchers’ comparative study of production from the country’s National Milk Records reveals that “dairy farmers who reported calling their cows by name got 2,105 gallons (7,938 liters) out of their cows, compared with 2,029 gallons (7,680 liters) per 10-month lactation cycle, and regardless of the farm size or how much the cows were fed. (Some 46 percent of the farmers named their cows.)”
The Newcastle University team which has interviewed 516 UK dairy farmers, has discovered that almost half – 48% – called the cows by name, thereby cutting stress levels and reported a higher milk yield, than the 54% that did not give their cattle names and treated as just one of a herd. The study also reveals cows were made more docile while being milked.
“We love our cows here at Eachwick, and every one of them has a name,” said Dennis Gibb, with his brother Richard who co-owns Eachwick Red House Farm outside of Newcastle. “Collectively, we refer to them as ‘our ladies,’ but we know every one of them and each one has her own personality. They aren’t just our livelihood, they’re part of the family,” Gibb explained.
“My brother-in-law Bobby milks the cows and nearly all of them have their own name, which is quite something when there are about 200 of them. He would be quite happy to talk about every one of them. I think this research is great but I am not at all surprised by it. When you are working with cows on a daily basis you do get to know them individually and give then names.” Jackie Maxwell noted. Jackie and her husband Neill jointly operate the award-winning Doddington Dairy at Wooler, Doddington, Northumberland, which makes organic ice cream and cheeses with milk from its own Friesian cows.
But Marcia Endres, a University of Minnesota associate professor of dairy science, has criticized the Newcastle finding. “Individual care is important and could make a difference in health and productivity. But I would not necessarily say that just giving cows a name would be a foolproof indicator of better care,” she noted. According to a 2007 The Scientist article, named or otherwise, dairy cattle make six times more milk today than they did in the 1990s. “One reason is growth hormone that many U.S. farmers now inject their cows with to increase their milk output; another is milking practices that extend farther into cows’ pregnancies, according to the article; selective breeding also makes for lots of lactation,” it states.
Critics claimed the research was flawed and confused a correlation with causation. “Basically they asked farmers how to get more milk and whatever half the farmers said was the conclusion,” said Hank Campbell, author of Scientific Blogging. In 1996, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs provided for a complex new cattle passport system where farmers were issued with passport identities. The first calf born under the new regime were given names like “UK121216100001.”
Dr Douglas, however, counters that England doesn’t permit dairy cattle to be injected hormones. The European Union and Canada have banned recombinant bovine growth hormone (rGBH), which increases mastitis infection, requiring antibiotics treatment of infected animals. According to the Center for Food Safety, rGBH-treated cows also have higher levels of the hormone insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF1), which may be associated with cancer.
In August 2008, Live Science published a study which revealed that cows have strange sixth sense of magnetic direction and are not as prone to cow-tipping. It cited a study of Google Earth satellite images which shows that “herds of cattle tend to face in the north-south direction of Earth’s magnetic lines while grazing or resting.”
Newcastle University is a research intensive university in Newcastle upon Tyne in the north-east of England. It was established as a School of Medicine and Surgery in 1834 and became the “University of Newcastle upon Tyne” by an Act of Parliament in August 1963.
The School of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development is a school of the Newcastle University Faculty of Science, Agriculture and Engineering, a faculty of Newcastle University. It was established in the city of Newcastle upon Tyne as the College of Physical Science in 1871 for the teaching of physical sciences, and was part of Durham University. It existed until 1937 when it joined the College of Medicine to form King’s College, Durham.