CowSignals, Cargill, and the Curious Case of the Moaning Cow


Walking through the Western Canadian Dairy Seminar tradeshow for the first time felt a bit reminiscent of my first day on the job. I was equally overwhelmed and intrigued by all the new faces and unrecognizable products. But, when I spotted Cargill’s booth (a no doubt familiar logo) in conjunction with a CowSignals display, I had to stop to ask some questions.

The first few people I spoke to suggested I wait to interview Danielle Dunn, not only an employee of Cargill’s Animal Nutrition division, but also a master trainer under the CowSignals program.

“We originally launched this program three years ago in eastern Canada,” Dunn told me in the interview included below. And, this September, the program expanded to include western Canada.

“CowSignals is all about reading the behaviours of a cow in the herd and understanding what she is saying about her environment and her management,” Dunn said, giving producers the opportunity to improve animal longevity, fertility and productivity. (see links below for more on the CowSignals program.)

Under the program, producers learn to look for animals showing unusual behaviour, such as standing for prolonged periods of time, pushing their nose against objects or, as in the case of one particular cow Dunn remembered well, an audible moaning sound.

In that curious case, they were able to determine, using CowSignals theory, that the herd did not have enough feed at the bunk.

“So they were gorging,” explained Dunn, “and when they would lay back down, their rumen was distended, which caused pressure, and they were really full. So it was like a grunting noise of ‘I’m full — I don’t feel good.’”

Once the issue was addressed, and feed was made more readily available, the operators saw more cows lying down, better rumen fill, and increased productivity.

Assessing symptoms like this is part of the offering of a CowSignals workshop.

“Generally, we like to plan for roughly four hours on-farm. We like to have small [groups of] producers for an on-farm session, because we will be walking with the cows.”

In the first hour, CowSignals is explained, and some of the symptoms to watch for are discussed. In the rest of the time, participants will walk through the barn, go through checklist assessments and brainstorm. They’ll then write a report of their findings.

For me, as a master trainer, it’s about facilitating the group, getting producers together to talk to producers,” Dunn said. “If I can create an environment where I can bring them together, and bring their ideas together, that’s when you see a lot of sparks fly.”

Having never experienced a CowSignals workshop, nor conference session, I had to ask how interested parties might organize one. The answer? Simple. Phone a Cargill animal nutrition representative.

Related: CowSignals: What Bessy’s Body Language Can Tell You
Ruminating with RealAg — Ep. 3: The Cow/Calf Bond, Orphan Calves & the Dangers of Bottle Fed Bulls
More stories from the Western Canadian Dairy Seminar

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