More Than Just a Name

New research suggests that calling a cow “Bessie” might not be so odd after all

If you visit one of Washington’s 450 dairy farms, you’ll notice that each cow has a numbered tag attached to one or both ears. These numbers help dairy farmers track the entire history of each cow. They link to a computer program that retains the animal’s birth date, history of pregnancies, milk volume yields and many other useful facts. But cows are more than mere numbers to their caregivers, the dairy farmers. On that same visit to the farm, you’ll likely hear names like “Gunner,” “Sleepy” and “Sunshine” thrown out while the farmer feeds the herd, checks their health status and simply pats them down. At the Two Sisters Dairy in Carnation, WA, Ann Marie Magnochi is able to tell you the name of every single cow, and their personalities, in the family’s 175-cow herd. A Brown Swiss cow named Jewel, for example, is referred to as the “gate-checker.” Every time she walks past a gate, Ann Marie says, Jewel gives it a nudge to see if it’s open. If it is, watch out! Jewel likes to slam them shut. (Read more about the Magnochi’s Two Sisters Dairy in The Valley Record.) And according to The New York Times’ Ninth Annual Year in Ideas, a recent study suggests that cows with names produce more milk. The research involved several hundred dairy farmers in Britain. Those who gave names to members of their herd saw a 6 percent bump in milk production as opposed to those with just numbers. It may be that cows, like people, appreciate the personal touch. Whether the act of naming a cow is causal or correlated probably requires more research; but the idea provides some insight into the practices Washington dairy farmers employ every day to keep their cows contented. After all, a happy cow, just like any employee, is a good producer. No matter the technique, Washington’s dairy farmers are continually seeking ways to make their cows happy, healthy and productive.