Cow comfort: 5-minute facial assessment
In this video, Dr. Silivo Miranda explains his 5-minute facial assessment. To hear it in Spanish, click here.
In recent years, there has been growing public concern about the welfare of livestock. Dairy farmers are, and should be, chief among those concerned about the well-being of their animals. Uncomfortable animals are not productive animals.
The first and best way to care for your herd is to reduce discomfort and stress caused by husbandry procedures, and this requires early recognition of any pain. Since cows do not communicate verbally, veterinarians and dairy producers have to pay close attention to changes in cow behavior. Teeth grinding, vocalizing, head pressing or, less frequently, colic behavior are clear signs of severe discomfort. Earlier identification of less severe behavioral changes in the cow will help detect illness, leading to better treatment options and improved health outcomes, including milk yield.
Understanding cow discomfort by facial expression
We are developing new guides to facial expression to help farmers detect if their cows are experiencing pain. This program is based on identifying and recognizing specific features on the cow’s face. Cows change their facial expression when stressed, and this spontaneous facial expression is considered an innate response, which is very difficult to suppress.
With a little practice, this evaluation can be done quickly in five minutes, and the farmer, with help from his veterinarian, can decide if the cow needs treatment or not.
Nose: It is a good sign if she lets you get close to the nose. If the facial muscles are relaxed, it means she isn’t in pain.
Strained nostrils dilated with lines above the nostrils and tension of the facial muscle suggest pain. Also, an increase of tonus of the lips could indicate pain.
Eyes: A cow has incredible peripheral vision and relies on vision for many things, from navigating the barn to finding feed. That is why bright, clear eyes, free of any crusting, are important for a healthy cow. A stare/withdrawn appearance and tension of the muscles above the eyes that may be seen as “furrow lines” indicate pain.
Ears: Should be forward. If the ears are tense and backward or low, also called “lambs ears,” this might indicate discomfort or pain.
Pain evaluation is an essential tool to ensure animal welfare in the modern dairy industry. Remember, happy, pain-free cows mean more milk and better reproductive health.