ILLUSTRATION BY JAN KALLWEJT
For dairy farmers, whether to name their cows may seem like a matter of taste. But it might not be. It could be a business decision.
A study of several hundred British dairies published in the journal Anthrozoös in March compared responses to a survey about cow treatment with independently collected milk data and found that cows that have names make, in a given year, about 258 liters more milk per farm than anonymous ones — a bump of about 6 percent.
More research is still needed. The possible psychological effects on cows of having a name, for example, have yet to be determined. But the results so far reveal a correlation: "The naming," says Catherine Douglas, the Newcastle University animal behaviorist behind the research, "reflects the humans' attitudes toward the cows, and therefore how they behave around them." Named cows are more often treated nicely, and well-treated, calm and happy cows make more milk. The point, Douglas says, is that it definitely can't hurt to name your cows.
Naming criteria vary widely. Some farmers name cows alphabetically; others recycle parents' names. Herb and flower names are popular in Britain. "You know," Douglas says, "Daisy, Rose, Buttercup." Douglas once named a cow after her sister, Hattie.
But some American dairy farmers scoff at this idea. Barbara Martin, a third-generation California dairy operator, says naming her 2,200 cows would be completely unrealistic. "Everyone," she says, "has an ear tag with a number." PAT WALTERS