By Rachel Roberts
Cows have best friends and become stressed when separated. So says Krista McLennan, a researcher working towards her PhD at Northampton University, McLennan believes her research could improve milk yields and dairy farming practices.
By measuring heart rates and cortisol levels of cows when isolated, McLennan discovered that cows are social animals, often forming close bonds with those in their herd. (Cortisol is often referred to as the “stress hormone.”) McLennan’s study found cows that spend a significant amount of time isolated often show higher signs of stress, which negatively impacts the amount of milk produced.
According to McLennan, “If we can encourage farmers to keep an eye out for those cows which like to keep their friends with them, it could have some real benefits, such as improving their milk yields and reducing stress for the animals, which is very important for their welfare.”
McLennan’s study found that when cows have their preferred partner with them, their stress levels in terms of their heart rates are significantly lower than paired with a random cow.
Farmers often point to high yields of milk when defending the industrialization of milk production. Industrially farmed cows often spend copious amounts of time isolated from one another. But if cows are forcibly separated from one another, they may be actually producing less milk than they would have under more favorable conditions—with their friends.
Trevor Foss, Chairman of the Northamptonshire branch of the National Farmers Union, believes this research could be beneficial to dairy farmers. Not only would farmers increase their milk yields, but the cows would be living in a much more humane habitat as well.
McLennan hopes that eventually her research will be incorporated into farming practices by the dairy industry. After all, just as you don’t like spending time apart from your BFF, cows don’t either!