Helping cows keep their cool

New UW researcher and Wis. dairy farm collaborate on animal welfare research

MADISON — On hot days, the cows at Rosy-Lane Holsteins are given cool showers while they’re being milked. And the farm’s newborn calves are housed in pairs to enhance their social and cognitive development.

Jennifer Van Os wants to know how those ideas are working out—for the cows and the farm.

Van Os is eager to learn about strategies that Wisconsin farmers employ to promote cow comfort. Since she joined the University of Wisconsin–Madison faculty last spring as an assistant professor of dairy science and extension animal welfare specialist, she has traveled the state to meet with milk producers, processors and others concerned about the well-being of Wisconsin’s signature farm animal.

“I wanted to see what people in the industry considered to be their strengths and challenges when it comes to animal welfare. I perceive that there’s a lot of support for my position,” she says. “A lot of farmers understand that they’re facing public scrutiny, and to be truly sustainable, you need public acceptance for agricultural practices.”

That sentiment is echoed at Rosy-Lane Holsteins, a 950-cow operation just south of Watertown operated by partners Lloyd and Daphne Holterman, Tim Strobel and Jordan Matthews.

“Jennifer came to Wisconsin at a really critical time,” says Lloyd Holterman. “The whole dairy industry is all about animal care.”

“Everyone in the dairy community—farmers, processors, everybody who touches the product—has got to do better,” adds Daphne Holterman. “We’ve always been concerned about our cows’ welfare, but it’s kind of been in the back of our minds. Now it has moved to the forefront. We know we have to pay more attention and we have to start telling people what we’re doing and why.”

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