'Cow whisperer' helps dairy farmers

Cows Some cows can feel bullied by the dominant cow of the herd

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"Cows have very individual personalities. You can tell when a cow is happy and a happy and healthy cow will produce more milk."

Cumbrian "cow whisperer" Karen Lancaster has been helping farmers get to know their cattle for the past four years.

The 33-year-old former vet, who works for Dairy Co, says it is all down to learning to read their signals.

And, contrary to popular belief, listening to their moos will get you nowhere - and the cumbersome beasts do not lie down if its about to rain.

"We base all our techniques on scientific research, and no, cows do not help us tell the weather," she explained.

Ms Lancaster said the only way to understand them is to put yourself in their position.

Lying by the cow

"Imagine that you're having to lie down for 14 hours a day at least. You don't want to be stood somewhere cold, dark and damp.

"Just by changing a cow's surroundings in somewhere light, clean and airy, you can radically improve their milk yield."

This is the kind of information that dairy farmers across the country want to hear at a time when their industry is suffering in the economic turmoil.

Cow whisperer Karen Lancaster Karen Lancaster worked as a vet for before becoming a 'cow whisperer'

In order to feel close to the herd and understand them, farmers need to do what they do.

This involves lying where the cow would rest, following them and watching them closely at feeding time.

Escape routes

"Bullying can take place in herds, and that becomes most apparent at feeding time.

"The other cows could be getting pushed away from their dinner by the dominant cow.

"I often tell farmers to make sure there are no narrow corridors that lead to dead ends in the areas where the cattle roam.

"There have been times when the subordinate cow feels trapped between the dead end and the dominant cow.

"This really affects them - they may be domesticated now, but they are essential prey animals they like to have escape routes."

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Unfortunately a happy cow does not mean less gas production”

End Quote Karen Lancaster

Farmers from across Lancashire and Cumbria regularly attend her group sessions where they gather at one farm and learn different techniques.

Stephen Dark, 40, has been in the dairy farm business all his life. He said the cattle on his farm in Cornwall were very happy but he did pick up some tips from Ms Lancaster.

"She came and did a training course at my farm and local farmers got involved too. My sheds were light enough and deemed to be very comfortable.

Methane output

"However, there were some rough patches on the floor that won't have been that nice for their hooves so we smoothed that for them.

"She gave some really good advice on how to read the signals from our cows."

Dairy Co is a division of the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, which is funded by the government.

Ms Lancaster added: "When the cows are happy, we know they eat more, when they eat more they make more milk."

Their happiness, however, does not reduce their prodigious methane output.

Environmentalists are concerned that the large amount of gas they emit is having a negative impact on the climate.

"We are conducting research in reducing methane, and some scientists have come up with the idea of sprinkling their feed with oregano.

"But unfortunately a happy cow does not mean less gas production."

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