Wednesday, 20 March 2013 15:52

Cow senses tuned to sights, sounds, smells

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BY BETTER understanding how a cow senses what’s going on, you can reduce her stress levels and make her life easier, say the organisers of a milk harvesting workshop.

DairyNZ told a recent Milksmart ‘Cow Senses’ workshop at Morrinsville that cows, with their wide field of vision, see much more than humans. The Milksmart workshop will be repeated this week at Geraldine (March 12) and Lincoln (March 14).

 Encompassing the whole milk harvesting process, the workshop allows a farmer to assess his operation and compare his performance against other farmers.

Able to see more than humans, cows take in lots of information, and they need plenty of time to do so – especially if the farmer is introducing something new. Pertinent advice: avoid working in a cow’s blind zone behind them, because it will turn to see you.

Cows can only see a small area in front of them with both eyes. They cannot judge distance or depth well. They must be given time to check steps, changes in surfaces, etc.

Cows are designed to look down. If they lift their heads they can’t see where they are placing their feet. Don’t push cows too hard, let them move at their own pace so they can place their feet safely.

Because cows don’t have good colour vision, they see more contrast – dark looks darker and light brighter. Avoid shadows at the dairy entry and make slow deliberates movements around cows.

They don’t like high-pitch or loud noises so talk quietly in low tones. Avoid whistling when around cows. 

Cows can detect odours 8km away. They can detect fear from dung and urine of other stressed cows so make sure milking remains calm and consistent. Stressed cows will send a smell warning message “Don’t come in here”.

The smell of blood can stress cows so watch out for blood from home kills/humane slaughter. Even the smell of blood and bone fertiliser can upset cows.

Cows have two to three times as many taste buds as humans and it is believed this helps them avoid eating bitter toxic plants. Be careful if you are grazing on pasture that has been sprayed out as toxic plants become less bitter as they wilt.

Cows will try to hide pain but they are sensitive to touch and feel pain in the same way we do. Try making every interaction with cows positive with a stroke, scratch or light patting.

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