We are well into Winter now. If the weather stays as it is, it’s going to be a breeze. We made silage on our smallholding only a month ago and there is already plenty of grass regrowth in the paddock. Life on the farm is a lot more enjoyable this way than when it is wet all the time. I don’t have to tell you that, and that is also the case for our cows. I talked about that in my article last month but we do seem to underestimate how big a deal that is for our cows. This is their annual holiday. A wet winter sets the cows up for a hard year. They will struggle more right from the start of calving. I would like to see some research being done on the correlation between resting time in the winter and lameness issues throughout the season.

The reason why we can be quite sure there is a correlation is by looking at cow behaviour. Why do cows do what they do? Often when I ask that question I get answers like: because cows are lazy, or they prepare themselves for no available water when they are going to the cowshed, or they like the food better than what they are getting in the paddock. I have talked with farmers who had to drive a four-wheeler in front of the cows to slow them down on the tracks because they were running. The reason why they didn’t want the cows to run was that they are now more likely to get stone bruising and become lame because of it. There is no evidence that stones make cows lame, but the point I would like to make here is that cows are primarily motivated by their situation at the moment and not so much by anticipation.

Cows are not lazy, cows are tired. Cows are not running because they get something tasty, cows run because they are hungry. Cows don’t drink water before they leave the paddock, they drink because they are thirsty. If you tune in to see cows by their behaviour you will start to ask different questions. You may now ask why cows don’t drink even though they have a water trough in the paddock. If cows are not lazy and they don’t drink to prepare themselves for limited access to water for the next few hours then why do they not drink earlier? One of the reason probably is because the more dominant cows keep them away from the trough. When they have gone, then the less dominant cows get a chance to get a drink.

When you ask the question “why” often enough you will become wiser even if you don’t know the answer immediately. The fact that you ask the question means that you are opening your mind to other possibilities. However, the attitude behind the asking is important. Ask the question to find out what is wrong or missing in the cows’ life so that you can provide for them. The thing is, cows tell you lots of things with their behaviour. If you pay attention to cows’ body language you can avoid many problems before they occur and you can manage them better to get the optimum performance from them.
If you have questions or comments please don’t hesitate to contact me on fred@veehof.co.nz