It was an exciting moment at Peaks and Pods this week when we let the cows into the Cow Pasture for the first time this summer. We’ve been working on our camping pod site since January, which takes up a corner of the large pasture, but the cows have been safely tucked up in the Big Shed all winter.
This week John and his dad put up a temporary fence that would separate the pods and allow the cows back into the field to graze. The cows hotfooted up the cow track and into the field, keen to get back into their daytime summer home.
Since then, every time we’ve been working at the camping pod site, digging drains or measuring for blinds, the cows have been peering over the fence to see what’s going on. It got me thinking about how cows have such funny characteristics and personalities, and I thought I’d find out more about what makes them so special.
- Cows have a great sense of smell. They can smell something up to six miles away.
- An average cow has more than 40,000 jaw movements in a day, chewing cud or grass about 40 times a minute.
- A pecking order in herds means that cows come into the milking parlour in the same position in the queue. Cows, like people, will make friends and bond to some herd members, while avoiding others. They also bear grudges!
- Cows drink the equivalent of a bathtub full of water each day – that’s about 180 litres.
- Cow gestation lasts the same amount of time as human pregnancy, nine months.
- Holstein Friesian cows, like our dairy herd, may not have hands, but they have their own unique ‘fingerprint’. No two cows have the same markings on their body.
- Most people think that cows have four stomachs. That’s actually not true. They have just one stomach with four chambers – rumen, reticulum, omasum and abomasum. This allows them to digest tough plant matter that would normally be indigestible.
- A dairy cow produces up to 75 litres of saliva per day – essential for good digestion.
- Cows only have teeth on the bottom. Instead, they press their sharp bottom teeth against the top hard palate of their mouth to cut efficiently through blades of grass.
- Cows can’t vomit.
- Cows are red/green colour blind, which means they see every shade of red and green as a version of grey or black.
- Cows have almost panoramic, 360-degree vision, allowing them to watch for predators or humans from all angles. It’s nearly impossible to sneak up on them!
- Thanks to a high metabolism, the average dairy cow consumes more than 100lbs of food per day.
- Cows commonly spend eight to ten hours per day ruminating (chewing the cud).
- Cows love a good scratch! We have scratching brushes mounted on the walls in our cow sheds for them to have a good old scrub.
Cows are incredibly inquisitive creatures, as we witnessed first-hand last year when we had a picnic with friends in one of our fields where the cows were grazing one evening. The whole herd decided to take a look at what was happening, and my friend Maria got a free but unexpected hair wash (see Fact 8 about saliva!).
Writer of ‘Cow’, Hannah Velten, wrote in The Guardian, “There are also the gentler cows who always appreciate a scratch behind the ear as you go past and the cows that Temple Grandin, the animal scientist, would describe as “curiously afraid”. These cows, and most do exhibit this behaviour, will be curious of any new thing but terrified of it at the same time.
“The braver ones will come forward to investigate first, but will stand at such a distance that their necks and tongues will be stretched out as far as possible so they don’t have to be too close. They will snort, sniff and try to lick the novelty until they decide after about 15 minutes that they are bored and will wander off. There’s a lot going on between those hairy ears.”
You might meet our bovine friends when you come to stay at Peaks and Pods. Just don’t put your picnic rug too close to them!