How now cash cow: U of M says comfy cows make big bucks


A University of Minnesota researcher has found a way to make dairy cows more comfortable. Marcia Endres, an associate professor of animal science at the University of Minnesota, says that cows whose stalls have more than nine inches of bedding--sand, sawdust, or other organic materials--tend to be more content than cows that rest on more shallow bedding. “A comfortable cow is a cash cow,” says Endres, adding that happy cows produce up to two gallons more milk per day.

How do you tell if a cow is happy? “It’s harder to measure the happiness of a cow,” Endres acknowledges in a video about her work on the university’s Web site. “They don’t really talk to me in English.” But there are signs. “Their eyes are bright and shiny, and their coats are shinier,” she says. “Cows might be calmer when you walk into a barn.”

Improving cow comfort not only makes the animals happier, it makes them healthier. Cows can become lame when they are on concrete or slurry for long periods of time. A few years ago, university researchers found that about 25 percent of highly productive cows in 50 Minnesota herds were lame. “Is it acceptable that one-fourth of our cows cannot walk naturally and without pain?” Endres wrote in 2004 in Dairy Extension, a University of Minnesota Extension publication.

Endres and her research findings are starring in some statewide television commercials and print advertisements in University of Minnesota publications. So as you pour cream into your coffee this morning, hope that it came from a happy cow.