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Are your cows telling you something?

So, what are Cow Signals?

Well, the concept is simple – it’s about reading cow behaviour with the aim to improve their surroundings or routine, enabling farmers to increase production and longevity whilst lowering costs.

The Cow Signals diamond focusses on the six freedoms of a cow; feed, water, light, air, rest and space.


Cow Signals Diamon


Cows are natural grazers and so prefer to eat “little and often” (up to 12 times a day), constant access to feed is one of the pillars of health and production on dairy farms. Sufficient space at the trough, alongside numerous push-ups of feed will be required to ensure fresh feed is available to the whole herd, rumen fill can be scored to assess feed intake. 



Cows should have easy access to CLEAN water at all times, over 85% of milk is water and a 30L cow will drink up to 120L of water a day. 



It is recommended for optimum feed intakes and heat signals lactating cows should have 16-18 hours at 200 Lux plus (as a guide you should be able to read the paper in 200 Lux) and 6-8 hours at less than 50 Lux. 



Fast breathing is one of the first symptoms of heat stress or lack of ventilation, Wet floors, condensation and cobwebs are all extra signs of a lack of ventilation in the shed. The air should be just as fresh as outside. 



When cows are lying down more blood is circulated through the udder and hooves are rested, cows resting for 14 hours have been shown to give more milk than those only resting for 9 hours. To achieve 14 hours beds need to be comfy and the correct dimensions, the drop knee test can be used to determine how comfy beds are. 



Nothing should prevent cows from having access to Feed, water or a bed, she should be free to socialise and exhibit signs of heat without hindrance (walk securely on a non-slippery floor).

If there are three things you take away from this piece, remember; 

  1. Every cow has a comfortable bed
  2. Every cow has a space to feed and drink
  3. Every shed has free cow flow


NWF has Cow Signal Master Trainers within our team, who can help you understand the environment and what your cows are telling you as they go about their daily routines.


For more information on Cow Signals and to arrange a workshop or presentation at your farm, please call 0800 262397 or email 

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