Irish dairy farmers should use the grazing season to closely observe cows in their natural state, according to Cow Signals specialist Dr Bert van Niejenhuis.

“Cows cannot talk, but they are communicating with us all the time,” he said.

“Every step they take, every gesture they make is telling us how happy or unhappy they actually are.”

Van Niejenhuis was a speaker at the 2015 Alltech annual symposium in Kentucky.   He said that cows need the six freedoms of the pasture at all times, which encompass the provision of adequate feed, water, light, air, rest and space.

“In practical terms this means ensuring that all cows can feed at the same time. Within a housed environment they need 16 hours of 200 lux light and eight hours of darkness.

"There should be a soft cubicle for every cow. If a cow does not lie down within 1 minute of entering a cubicle, then it is not fit for purpose. Cows need to rest for a minimum of 14 hours per day."

“An important consideration is lunge space. A cow should lunge forward in the stall when she stands up. Lunging activity can be easily seen when cows are at pasture.”

Van Neijenhuis also pointed out that cows need access to adequate space at all times.

“Cows don’t like to fight,” he said.

“But this can happen if they are maintained within an indoor environment that is not large enough for them.

“By putting the comfort of the cows first at all times, they will respond by producing more milk over a longer number of lactations. This has benefits from both a production and cost saving perspective.

“Older cows produce more milk per lactation than their younger counterparts. Lower culling rates will also reduce the need to produce replacements. Heifer rearing is the second largest cost on all dairy farms."