‘Happy cows’ a dairy farm philosophy

Researchers believe happy cows are productive cows.

A University of Wisconsin-Madison initiative is helping farms become more productive by making cows’ happiness the top priority, and that’s a philosophy farm owner Tim Servais follows.

“Look how content they are,” Servais said. “These guys are happy.”

At Hamburg Hills Farm in Stoddard, it’s all about the cows – all 350 of them.

“Its’ not always what’s handiest for you,” Servais said. “It’s what’s best for the cows at this farm here.”

It’s just as much “all for one” as it is “one for all,” as shown when Servais noticed Lotus, a smaller, more timid breed of cow than the usual Holsteins, getting picked on.

“They would bully and push her,” he said.

So, Servais gave her a cow bell.

“They leave her alone, she’s a big shot now,” he said.

It’s little things like this that Servais does to keep his cows happy.

“The happier the cow is, the better we feel they’ll do for us,” he said.

Servais said happier milk cows are more productive, and that’s a message at the heart of UW-Madison’s Dairyland Initiative at the School of Veterinary Medicine.

“Farmers have always wanted to optimize the well-being of their animals, and now as consumers are wanting to know more about where their food is coming from, and the agriculture industry is becoming more transparent, we’ve put the ‘happy cows’ word to that idea,” associate outreach specialist Courtney Halbach said.

Halbach said the group is studying ways to keep cows comfortable, including ventilation systems.

“We’re definitely the leader in dairy cattle housing,” she said.

Servais recently upgraded his cows’ facilities, adding fan ventilation, cold water sprinklers to keep cows cool in the summertime, more space per cow and some additional perks.

“That’s a back scratcher for the cows,” Servais pointed out.

All of that is part of his effort to make his cows happy.

“If they’re overcrowded in here and didn’t have as much water accessibility and didn’t have nice soft beds to live in, they wouldn’t be as happy as they are now,” he said.

Servais said with less stress, his cows’ lifespans are a lot longer, and he’s been able to grow his herd over the years.

The Dairyland Initiative has a website here with recommendations on how to maximize cow comfort and health.