Dairy co-operative Arla Foods has been working with animal behavioural scientists to determine how, exactly, to measure the happiness of a cow. The cumulative data will be used to create a ‘happy cow measure’ that can automate the assessment of cows' mental wellbeing.

Arla reckons that, with many farmers across the UK already using technology to monitor and manage heat detection and early signs of illness, there's an opportunity to measure and manage herd behaviour and welfare by utilising the same sensor technology

The project is being led by the Arla UK 360 Programme, an initiative supported by Aldi and Morrisons, and being spearheaded at the Arla 'Innovation Farm' based near Aylesbury, where the herd are using Nedap sensor technology capable of tracking activity, behaviour and location. Sustainability experts at FAI Farms are analysing that data to identify key behavioural traits that signal positive welfare.

Key positive behaviour indicators included social grooming, synchronicity and brush use, which ordinarily would not be monitored and never before automatically measured. FAI research coordinator, Annie Rayner, said: “Displaying positive behaviours brings enjoyment and pleasure to an animal, improving its quality of life. This project will not only further our understanding of positive welfare indicators for dairy cows but will also make a start at automating these measures. As the adage goes, 'You can only manage what you measure'. We hope that by creating a measure of positive welfare, we will help guide and encourage farmers to provide these positive experiences for their cows.”

Technology partners in the study, Nedap together with Alta Genetics, installed a network of receivers, which in conjunction with sensor technology worn by the cows can also track location and movement. The project is now looking to interrogate the data captured by this sensor technology to measure the key positive behaviour indicators.

Alta Genetics UK manager Iwan James said: “Whilst improving the health and welfare of cows it will also give consumers confidence based on real data that cows can be healthy, happy and show natural behaviour regardless of the farming system.”

The farmer taking part in the study, Neil Dyson, said: “We have housed and grazed cows on our farm and it’s been really interesting to see the same positive behaviours displayed across the groups, showing whether they’re indoors or outdoors, our cows are content and we’re looking after them well.”