Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Name That Cow

I was cruising the headlines last night, and I came across this story, about how cows seem to respond positively to individual attention, like calling them each by name, etc. It's pretty interesting stuff, though the only surprising thing is how long it's taken science to realize this. Here's the article, which I found on

Cows with Names Make More Milk

Researchers in the UK say cows with names make 3.4 percent more milk in a year than cows that just feel, well, like cows.

There seems to be more than just names involved, however.

The study, involving 516 dairy farmers and published online Tuesday by the journal Anthrozoos, found that "on farms where each cow was called by her name the overall milk yield was higher than on farms where the cattle were herded as a group," write researchers Catherine Douglas and Peter Rowlinson of Newcastle University.

Nobody likes to be herded. Even a cow, one might presume. Indeed, the findings in fact point to an overall personal touch that – just a guess here – might say as much about the farmers as it does about the cows.

"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," Douglas said. "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."

Happy cows. Okay. Well, if you are a farmer (especially one with a small farm that struggles to be profitable by milking only a handful of cows) you probably would not argue with success. Cows, after all (and in case you're thinking of judging them as dumb animals) are known to have a magnetic sixth sense and are not as prone to cow-tipping as you might have heard. Who knows what else they are capable of?

Dairy farmer Dennis Gibb, who co-owns Eachwick Red House Farm outside Newcastle with his brother Richard, says he believes treating every cow as an individual is vitally important. "They aren't just our livelihood – they're part of the family," Gibb said in a statement released by the university. "We love our cows here at Eachwick and every one of them has a name. Collectively we refer to them as 'our ladies' but we know every one of them and each one has her own personality."


The findings:

46 percent said the cows on their farm were called by name.

66 percent said they "knew all the cows in the herd."

48 percent said positive human contact was more likely to produce cows with a good milking temperament.

Less than 10 percent said that a fear of humans resulted in a poor milking temperament.

"our data suggests that on the whole UK dairy farmers regard their cows as intelligent beings capable of experiencing a range of emotions," Douglas said. "Placing more importance on knowing the individual animals and calling them by name can – at no extra cost to the farmer – also significantly increase milk production."

So, of course I have something to say about this article, but first I need to point something out that most people rarely think about, and some of you maybe don't even realize: cows do not produce milk constantly, for no reason. Just like in humans, milk production begins during pregnancy, and is produced solely to nourish their young. If you're drinking cow's milk and you're not a young cow, you're basically an accessory to the theft of a Mother's milk, produced for it's baby.

I'm really happy to see that science and farmers agree that cows have feelings. What troubles me is to hear these guys talk about their cows as if they love them, as if they're "family", wh
en what they do to the dairy cows is they forcibly impregnate them, then take their babies away as soon as they're born, because they can't have the baby cows taking milk that we've designated for human consumption.

So you get a Mother cow who, it is agreed, has feelings, who gets her newborn baby taken from her, which has to be at least a little traumatic to an animal with feelings. And then you have a newborn calf, brand new to the world, also with feelings, who gets taken from it's only source of comfort and love before it's even had a chance to get to know it's Mom.

The male calves, of course, will become veal in a short time (and thankfully it is a short time, as the baby cows are kept in tiny cages where they have no room to move or turn around at all, preventing them from forming correctly, but making for the most tender meat). How a farmer (who seems to agree
that cows have feelings) can do this is beyond me. if we could understand the cows, in terms of what they're thinking or feeling, I have to believe that we would immediately stop eating them and using them for their milk. But, since the cows haven't said "stop" yet in terms we understand, we just keep enslaving them.

So while here in California we get inundated with advertising campaigns telling us that the California cows are happy, the only truly happy cows are the ones not being used for meat, milk, leather or service of some sort. Which means that happy cows might not even exist, save for those lucky few that have made it to some sort of sanctuary.



  1. BRAVO Chris...
    this is a brilliant response to the article you read...
    how proud I am of you!!!

  2. Thank you! As you are the person I will forever consider my mentor in the world of animal rights, you have no idea how much it means to me to know that you are proud. You've helped me find my place in this debate and I am forever grateful.

  3. Mmmmm, I had Dexter cattle, some we milked but never took the calves off them... I do know that commercial dairies are as you describe...

    as for naming them all my cows had names ... we're they happy, probably they seemed content...I didnt use any harmful process others use, ie burning/cutting horns, castration etc pretty much live and let live...

  4. With out a doubt this cow is Evangelina...Surely you can see it? Love this post

  5. LOL! great finding! thanx for sharing

    worth reading.........

  6. What a great article, we have a rule that if you name something its a pet and therefore cannot be eaten...i especially love your last point, so very true xo