Cows should be allowed to express normal behaviours. A normal behaviour is the way an animal acts in their natural environment. Enough space, proper shelter and housing, good food and water and company of the animal’s own kind, allows and encourages the expression of normal behaviours.
This law is called the Animal Welfare Act. The Animal Welfare Act says that your animal has five groups of welfare needs. These are five groups of things that animals need to be healthy and happy. These five welfare needs are called the Five Freedoms.
Under the Animal Welfare Act, all animal guardians (owners) need to provide these five groups of things for their animals. One of these Five Freedoms is: Freedom to Express Normal Behaviour. In this section you will learn about this freedom and how you can make sure your cows receive the exercise and enrichment they need to be free to express their normal behaviour.
One of the most important natural behaviours for a cow is being able to graze. Grazing is a method of feeding in which a herbivore feeds on plants such as grasses. Cows can spend up to nine hours a day grazing. If you decide to own a cow, it is very important you allow your cows to graze.
You will need to have enough space to keep cows comfortable so that they do not feel confined and so that there is enough pasture to keep them busy grazing on. You will need to make sure that your pasture is well looked after - an adult may be able to help you with that. You can read more about this in Freedom from hunger and thirst.
Another reason it is so important for your cow to graze is because it is part of the cow’s digestive process. We talked earlier about the special compartments a cow’s stomach has, which makes it a ruminant. As your cow is a ruminant, it requires time to graze on its food, regurgitate, swallow their food, regurgitate and ruminate (or chew) on it some more.
This allows your cow to extract all the nutrients possible from the grass. If your cow does not get the opportunity to graze, it can become depressed, ill and develop problem behaviours. Remember, not being able to graze is not normal or natural for a cow.
Cows are naturally herded animals and are very social. This means it is normal for cows to want to be in groups (herds). A cow won’t feel safe if it is alone keeping your cow isolated, and she will try to get into an environment with other cows if she is isolated. Isolation isn’t natural for cows, so they should always be able to see and interact with at least one or two other cows.
Cows can become panicked or depressed when they are on their own, so it is very important that they have other cows for company. In order to make sure your cow has the freedom to express natural behaviour, you should have at least one other cow, that they are compatible with, for your cow to be friends with and keep them together. This will help your cow feel safe and happy.
Cows enjoy grooming themselves and other cows (social grooming). This helps cows form bonds with each other, especially between cows and their calves. These behaviours are all very important for your cow and they will want the company of cows so they can participate in these natural activities.
Interesting fact – a dairy cow can produce over 50kg of saliva in one day!
An interesting fact about cows is that they can lie down for up to 14 hours a day. During this time though, they will only sleep for short periods at a time. Cows lie down for many different reasons; time to digest food (ruminate) in a safe and quiet place, helps rest their hooves, sleeping, when they calve (give birth) or when sick or injured.
Therefore, they are standing and lying regularly throughout the day, depending on many different things. Another thing to remember is the way that cows lie down, as they generally bend onto their front knees to drop down to the ground – so make sure if using a bedding inside area – that the area of bedding is comfortable enough for them to drop down to their knees (using comfortable matting is good).
Cows are very intelligent animals and they do well when their minds are stimulated. Letting a cow use its mind to learn new things is part of helping your cow to have the freedom to express natural behaviour.
Many people use clicker training to train their dogs. Did you know you can use clicker training for cows too? Cows have successfully been trained to learn a variety of tasks and commands through clicker training. Cows have learnt to distinguish between shapes and colours, and have also learnt many cool tricks when they have been trained.
You can find clicker training guides at your local library or watch instructional videos online of how to properly train an animal using a clicker.
By training your cow, you are both stimulating her mind and bonding with her. To do this, you need to spend good quality time with your cow, creating positive interactions.
All animals should be given enrichment – enrichment is a way of improving the lives of your animals by giving them interesting, fun and challenging things to do.
Enriching their lives with other herd mates is another way to ensure your cow is happy and healthy. Having the best, well-managed pasture is also the best situation you can have for your cow(s). Enrichment is especially important if your pasture or grass area isn’t the very best.
Here are some enrichment ideas for your cow which will keep them busy and stop them from being bored or frustrated: