Decision making

Signs of a healthy dairy cow

To be profitable, a Dairy herd must be in good shape. It’s therefore crucial to be able to recognise a healthy dairy cow, and know when things are not right.

With practice it is relatively easy to identify a healthy dairy cow. This will then enable you to tell when something is not right and take immediate action.

Photo /courtesy

Here are some of the signs to tell whether your dairy animals are healthy.

General appearance

It is a alert and aware of its surroundings. It stands squarely on all four feet and holds its head high with watching what’s happening around.


They should be bright and alert, with no discharge at the corners.


The cow should be able to walk easily and steadily with all four feet bearing its weight. It’s steps are regular, irregular movements suggest pain in its feet or legs.


These should be upright, move to pick up any sound, and flick rapidly to get rid of files.


There should be no dribbling of saliva. If chewing is slow or incomplete, there could be a problem with the teeth.

Hair /coat

The hair coat of a healthy animal is smooth and shiny.


This should be smooth and regular at rest. If the animals is in the shade, it’s difficult to notice the chest moving as it breathes. Activity and hot weather will increase the breathing rate.


The dung part of a healthy animal is soft. Watery dung and difficulty in defecating are signs of ill health. The urine should be clear and the animal will urinate with no signs of pain or difficulty.

Appetite and rumination

The cow should eat and drink normally. If feed is available, it will have a full belly. A poor appetite is an obvious sign of ill health. When a herd of healthy cows are at rest of most of them are ruminating.


There should be no swelling of the udder and no sign of pain when it’s touched. The teats must not be injured. In a lactating cow, a sudden decrease in milk production could indicate a health problem. Blood in the milk points to an udder infection.

Body temperature

An abnormal high body temperature is a sign of infection, although environmental factors must also be considered.

Note: remember that a healthy animal tends to behave calmly so any behaviour not usually seen may be a problem.

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