Cows are very intelligent and emotional animals that deserve to be happy, healthy and feel safe. Taking the time to care for your cow and learn to understand their needs will help you identify the things you must do to prevent your cow feeling fearful and/or distressed. By doing these things, you will be providing your cow freedom from fear and distress.
This law is called the Animal Welfare Act. The Animal Welfare Act says that animals in your care must be provided with an environment and care that meets their five welfare needs. These welfare needs are five important conditions that need to be met for animals to be healthy and happy. These five welfare needs are called the five freedoms.
One of these Freedoms is: freedom from fear and distress. In this section, you will learn about this freedom and how you can make sure your cow is receiving the love, understanding and companionship he/she needs to be free from fear and distress.
Cows are social, herd animals and therefore, need other cows around them to feel safe and happy. This means your cow will need cow friends to stay happy.
Research has shown that cows like to graze with other cows in groups of 3 - 4. The groups that cows graze in are made up of cows that have bonded with each other (cows make best friends too!).
These groups of cows will often eat together, groom each other and rest together. Cows even have different vocalisations and communicate with each other using calls that are individualised in a similar way to human names.
The earlier and younger a calf or cow is, when you start to tame them, the easier it will be. As a cow gets older, it can become slightly harder to make them feel less afraid of you and other new things. With positive reward based training and gentle handling, your calf or cow will learn to trust you.
You should always use a low, gentle voice around your cow and never raise your voice to yell at them. It will also help if you have some of your cow or calves favourite food with you when you are trying to get them used to you and to areas where you want them to go – for example, yards where you might need to bring them to the veterinary attention.
Cow like being scratched in those hard to reach areas, like behind the ears and under the neck, however, it does take time for your cow to trust you enough to get close enough to be able to do this.
Remember that cows are very strong animals, so you always need to be careful around them and you should always have an adult with you to help out. If a cow is feeling frightened or distressed, they may react in ways you are not expecting. The more time you spend with your cow, the more they will get used to you and learn that you are not a threat.
Cows have very good memories and will remember things that have happened to them, both positive and negative, which is why training your calf or cow requires gentle handling at all times.
Your cow will remember if it has had a bad or painful experience with another cow and they have been shown to hold grudges against other cows who have mistreated them.
The same goes for people too. If a person has hurt or upset a cow, that cow is likely to remember this, and they won’t easily forget. They will then avoid or be scared of that same person, and sometimes the place it occurred. This is why it is really important you are always gentle with your cow and never use physical force or loud voices around your cows.
Like sheep, cows have a wide field of vision because their eyes are on the side of their head. This means they can see nearly all the way around them.
They are not as good at knowing how far away things are or how fast something is moving and because of this, they tend to prefer areas that are well-lit so they can always see what is going on.
If cows sense sudden movement behind them, they can become frightened and may freeze, or become frightened and show unpredictable behaviour (running away, bucking or become aggressive). So, when approaching your cow, make sure you approach slowly and carefully, and from the side so that they can see you.
The same goes when introducing something new to your cow’s environment. Be sure to place it where your cow can see it and let your cow come close enough for a closer look when and if she wants too. Remember, they are very curious, so it won’t take too long before they come to investigate something new in their paddock.
Cows have very good hearing and can hear things that we humans can’t hear. Due to this fact, cows are very sensitive to noises and can become anxious if noises are too loud, or at a high frequency.
Try to talk to your cows in a quiet, calm voice. Barking dogs, clanging gates and high pitched whistling can also be particularly stressful, so avoid these things where you can.