COW COMFORT

I have a theory:  I believe that it is impossible to gaze upon a herd of cows, grazing on a green-grassed hillside, and think of nuclear holocaust at the same time.  Check it out the next time you’re driving in the country and happen upon a herd.

I was reminded of this when I read a Wall Street Journal report on dairymen trying to find ways to increase milk production.  Turns out that, by relieving cows of stress, milk production can be raised to markedly higher levels than ever before.

When I was a child, my aged grandfather, Manuel Barboza, taught me how to milk a cow.  He had a ten acre plot in Niles, California (since subsumed by the town of Fremont).  There was hay and corn, cows and chickens, and quite a number of fruit trees.  The apricots, freshly fallen from the tree, remain the most memorable.  They were soft and juicy and intensely flavorful.

Milking a cow, it turned out, was all in the wrist.  You squeezed your fingers tightly, yes, but it was that little wrist twist at the end that got the most milk squirting plink-plink into that stainless-steel pail.  My grandfather was a short, squat man, with small hands and short, stubby fingers.  But when you shook his hand, you knew that he could crush your hand in a second if he chose to do so.  When I swing a baseball bat today, I wish my hands and wrists were as strong as his were.  Just don’t have a cow handy.

Back to the modern day dairy.  Classical (and Country) music, back scratchers and water beds.  I’m not kidding!  That’s what these guys are employing to calm their cows and boost milk production nearly 40 percent above what it was two decades ago.  American cows now produce more than ten metric tons of milk each year, among the world leaders.

Cows used to be milked twice a day.  By hand.  Now automatic milking machines—that cows can literally “walk into” on their own—handle the task three times a day . . . when the cows feel ready to be milked.  If the barn is too warm, automatic misters cool the lasses.  “Cow comfort is one of the main deriving forces of our existence,” says Mike McCloskey, the head of a 100-member cooperative.  “We have to keep them fine-tuned.  They can’t get stressed.”

So, music sets an ambience.  Tests show that cows who listen to talk radio—particularly when it’s political talk radio—producer significantly less milk!  Too much stress.  Automatic back-scratchers are a big hit with the cows, as are water beds.  Water beds!  Apparently, cows that sleep half the day produce more milk, and their tender knees don’t like hard concrete floors.  Who knew?

Actually, it makes all the sense in the world.  Workers in a comfortable environment perform better than those in a high stress environment.  Reduce health risks, raise productivity.  Common sense.  Ask any skyscraper window cleaner, cop or coal miner.

©2017 Richard Paul Hinkle

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