How to make your cow happy

Cows don’t deal with the same problems we do — money struggles, relationship woes, family drama — but that doesn’t mean cows stress any less.

But what stresses cows out in the first place? Researchers in Brazil headed out to the corrals to see what kinds of details increased stress levels in cows.

As it turns out, there are a few small things that seem to help cattle feel more at ease. Farmers and ranchers can try to avoid allowing dogs nearby and keeping noise levels down. Something else that helps is to minimize the presence of water puddles, shadows and bright pops of color in the vicinity of the corral. It’s also best to only use electric prod as necessary.

The study was carried out over two Brazilian cattle farms that raise a hump-backed breed called Nelore, a popular breed in Brazil. Nelore cows are known for being temperamental and sometimes even aggressive when stuck in large groups, so keeping them content is essential.

These cows’ stress levels — measured by reading the stress hormone cortisol in the bloodstream — were detected before and after certain corral conditions were altered. Puddles were filled in and bright objects were removed. The researchers also tried blocking the cow’s view of the handler, and trained handlers on how to work calmly with animals (without shouting or pushing, while moving slowly).

Nelore cattle in Brazil

Generally, they found that cows do better in a quiet setting with little visual contrast (the darks and lights of shadows, the difference between a plain wall and the colorful tool propped against it, etc.).

In the end, cows, like many animals, prefer not to be overstimulated. And comfortable cows are not only more productive, but are healthier and naturally live longer. Basically, if they were music fans, cows probably wouldn’t head to a rock concert — maybe just a gentle acoustic folk festival.

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