Cowsignals – what your cow is trying to tell you

As kids, if we were angry with each other, we’d yell, “You’re a dumb cow!” We had it wrong. Cows aren’t dumb. If anything, their owners might be, because they don’t understand what their cows are saying to them. Communication between humans supposedly consists of 97 percent body language. Between cows and humans it’s more like 99 percent. Paying attention to it will increase a cow’s comfort and the owner’s pocket book.

Happy comfortable cows produce better.

Cowsignals originated in Holland, with Jan Hulsen and is taught in over 30 countries. I joined a course in Schaffhausen with instructor Christian Manser, who has taught in Canada too. Cows give clear signals about their well being. Careful observance helps prevent diseases and other issues before they become a problem. Most cattle owners already monitor their cows closely, especially during calving season. But this goes more in depth.

Getting close to the cows enables you to see the little details you miss otherwise.

Christian had us standing out in Bernard Mueller’s feed den for awhile, looking around the barn for problem spots. Is there mold somewhere? Wet spots, danger spots – spots where cattle slip, narrow passage ways, rods poking out at odd places? Is there enough air movement everywhere?

Watch the cows. Why do they prefer that side? Go down there, smell. Maybe the air is cleaner, cooler. Maybe there’s a bully on the other side.

Wonder why cows might avoid their bedding? Kneel down in it and check for yourself!

It’s been awhile since I last had cows licking my rubber boots, but that’s how close we had to get to them next. Check them out. Are there sore spots? Are the spots often in the same place or height in different cows? The cows are probably rubbing against something somewhere. If it hurts when they have to go somewhere, they won’t want to go there. That’s not good news if it’s the mineral lick or the water tank. “Cows never lie,” Christian told us. Bernard made new box stalls, thinking they were an improvement over the old ones. But the cows tried to lay in the old ones if possible. “Roll up your jeans, kneel down there,” Christian said. The new matting was rough, uncomfortable; not as soft as the straw bedding in the old.

“You’ve got to think like a cow,” Christian kept saying. Walk through the milk parlour or around the barn as if you were a cow. Are there slippery spots? Are some areas too bright or too dark? Can their eyes adjust quickly enough?

Well, I am not a cow, even if my sisters did sometimes call me one. But I sure did gain a lot of respect for their behaviour that I never thought about before. So did the other participants. “We’ll walk into the barn with new eyes tonight,” they said. I’m sure their cows will appreciate that.

“Cow Signals” by Jan Hulsen can be obtained at various online booksellers, including

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