Joep Driesen, from Holland, presented the concept of Cow Signals, at today’s Global 500 event, hosted by Alltech in Dublin.

This is an innovative approach to herd management, which is based on farmers and herd managers recognising the specific needs of their cows by ongoing visual assessment. “Cows are continually sending out signals about their health,” the Dutch veterinarian confirmed. “They are always trying to communicate with us and, in fact, are the best advisors on every dairy farm. The challenge facing milk producers is that of identifying these signals and interpreting what they mean.”

Driesen continued: “Observation on the part of the farmer is, therefore, key. Everyone involved on a dairy farm should be continually looking at the cows and how they react to the environment they are in. And it’s an approach that works. In Holland the best dairy farmers are able to maintain cows that produce an average of 60,000 of milk during their life time. The average lifetime yield is half this figure, 30,000 litres. Those farmers who are achieving the best results from their cows will confirm their commitment to the Cow Signals management approach.”

When it comes to managing animals in a confined environment, Driesen pointed out that milk producers must provide their cows with the six basic ‘freedoms of the pasture’. These relate to the provision of adequate feed, water, light, air, rest and space. He particularly stressed the need to provide cubicles that are of adequate size.

“A cow will lunge forward when she gets up from a lying position,” he further explained. “I have been in too many houses where this is prevented by the fact that a cubicle bed is not long enough and cows find themselves having to physically push against a wall in order to get up. Cubicles of this type do not encourage the cow lie down in the first place. And when she does, the risk of injury to her feet and back is significant when she tries to get up.

“Every additional hour that a cow lies down will lead to the production of an extra litre of milk. This is why the time taken to milk a herd of cows is so important. If this period extends beyond an hour per milking, then daily milk yields will be reduced significantly.”

Driesen concluded: “The secret to successful milk production is putting in place management practises that reduce the levels of stress that cows are under.”

Joep Driesen is a member of the Netherlands-based Vetvice Group. Made of seven vets and two agricultural engineers, the group delivers practical and reliable information on dairy cow housing and husbandry to dairy farmers worldwide. The group has also published a number of dairy management books, including its most widely red title ‘Cow Signals.  For more information, check out