cows walking toward milking parlor
I walked around a 2,300-cow dairy in Florida earlier this month. No guide, no restrictions, and no objective other than taking a few pictures.

A simple thing happened that was a first for me and it's already one of my favorite dairy experiences in my four-decade career covering the dairy industry. It also highlighted what was already obvious about how the farm treats its animals.

Standing at the front of the holding pen of the double-35 parlor, another group of cows was coming up the center alley (shown above). They were pretty much doing it themselves. I never heard the pusher make a sound or saw him do anything but walk.

As the cows approached and saw a stranger in the way (me) they didn't hesitate at all, they filed past like I'm always there.

"Ho hum and isn't it a nice day?" they might have been thinking.

Several others came up to investigate.

A couple licked. Holsteins and crosses acting like Jerseys never gets old.

Whenever I make a dairy visit it usually takes 30 seconds or less to know everything about the farm's kindness toward cows. I'll say that word again: kindness. Caring for cows is one thing; caring about them is another. Unfortunately, it's been clear over the years that not all dairies are alike.

Too many among us give cows reasons to be afraid of people, and it shows immediately. Walk down a feed lane and some back out of the stanchions. Step into a freestall area and some get up. Stand outside a transfer alley and some stop, move away, or rush past.

What causes that behavior? Cows have a degree of natural curiosity but is fear normal? Or does yelling and rough handling train them to be that way? More importantly, how much milk production is lost by being afraid of people?

Cow comfort – the physical kind – is a key management goal in the dairy industry today. But how much of that effort is wasted if cows aren't also comfortable in their environment and around people?

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(c) Hoard's Dairyman Intel 2016
March 14, 2016
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