We all know what we need – three good meals a day, a good night’s sleep in a comfy bed and a rerun of last year’s rugby world cup semi-final.

But what does a cow need?

Food, water and …?

If you want your cows producing well getting this right, of course, is important but have you ever actually stopped and thought about it?

Feed is the obvious first need for a cow – and we’re good at providing fresh green grass for them every day.

Top up that grass with supplements as required such as magnesium and calcium and add some carbs to all that protein they’re getting and you will have a happy animal.

Cows will let you know if they’re not getting what they need to eat. If they’re not sitting down enjoying the view after a few hours’ grazing following morning milking then there is not enough grass in the paddock.

If you turn around in the dairy and see a cow slurping down the bucket of calf milk they’re probably not getting enough calcium and everyone will have seen production go up one day and down the next and think it could have been because the grass was poorer quality, or they didn’t feed grain while milking that day, or something else.

Feeding cows well though is not just about giving them lots of the right stuff to eat. Cows need to develop their rumen to handle large quantities of feed so they need to be well grown as a young animal and have a good gut capacity – width and depth.

A cow will eat until it feels full and will then stop eating but if it has a small rumen, its energy requirements might not be met even though it is full. This will mean less milk production and body condition loss.

However lying time, for cows, is just as important as feed, if not more so. Studies have shown that if a cow has a choice between lying and eating, it will chose lying first.

Just like us, they need their rest and if cows can’t lie down for about 12 hours each day, milk production will drop.

And they’re picky about where they lie – they want it dry, comfy and with their own space around them. If they don’t get this then lying time is reduced and so will production.

In a spring storm, few cows will get enough rest time out in the paddock so don’t expect after the storm has passed for your cows to be eating in the sunshine – they’ll all be sleeping instead and production will drop.

While we like a balmy 20C plus and sunshine, cows like it a bit cooler – between 5C and 15C is just right for them. If you have to take your jersey off when you walk into a cow barn, it is too hot.

They also like low humidity and will eat more and produce more when we are wishing for the weather to warm up.

They do not like wind and will stand together at the edge of the paddock not eating in driving rain. If you do have a cow barn, or a sheltered standoff pad, move them on to it and feed them supplement in bad weather, even if it is in the middle of summer, then production won’t drop.

On hot days try to provide them with shade and a breezy ridge to keep them eating and milking well.

Overseas they use fans, misters and sprinklers to keep cows cool, especially while they are waiting to be milked.

The dairy, and the dairy yard, can be the hottest place on a farm during the summer. If your cows don’t want to come in for milking in the heat of summer maybe think of putting shade cloth over the yard and fans inside.

Light is important too. Studies have shown that cows will eat, produce more milk, and put on more weight with greater daylight hours.

The milk production curve follows the increase and decrease of daylight hours. If you have your cows in a barn milking over winter, consider keeping the lights on into the evening so they only have six hours of darkness.

They also like clean air so make sure any inside spaces they use are well ventilated and when outside don’t burn rubbish next to their paddock.

Fresh drinking water is another must. A lactating cow needs 40 litres or more of water a day and dry cows and young stock need it too. They require access to it around the clock, not just when they are walking past a trough on the way to the dairy.

Water intake will go up or down depending on the weather and the water content of the feed. A good way to check you are providing enough water is to have a look a couple of hours after you put the cows in the paddock for the day.

If the cows are crowding around the water trough and the pump is having trouble keeping up then you are not giving them enough.

Cows are fussy drinkers and like their water clean. They will not drink as much from wells contaminated with iron or salt (if you are near the coast) so get it tested if you are unsure.

Switching to a better source of water will undoubtedly make your production go up.

Just like us, cows need their friends around them. In your herd there will be social hierarchies. You’ll notice the first cow in the dairy is usually the same, as is the last. Bossy cows will push others out of the way and the older cows will stand back and watch the world go around.

Shifting cows in and out of herds, for body condition score or other reasons, upsets these hierarchies and it takes a while for everything to settle again. Try to do it as little as possible.

Also, never leave a cow by herself. If there is only one cow to AI in the morning, or have her feet done, leave her with a buddy and she will be a lot more relaxed and easier to handle.

Downer cows are more difficult to keep with a few of their mates and being on their own probably adds to their lack of will to get up again.

But cows also want their own space – to walk around, to lie down and do all the things cows like to do such as have a chat with each other to discuss the weather, how they’re feeling and whether the boys will be back anytime soon.

They’re inquisitive animals and enjoy a scratch, investigating whether the float in the trough can be pushed around and what yummy things can be found if they reach over the fence.

And they don’t like being sick. You will notice cows with sore feet, mastitis and infections look sad – their heads are down, they don’t want to eat and they are not their usual curious, natural selves.

Make sure they are given treatments as soon as possible and try to limit ways they can get injured and get infections.

Happy and healthy is the way we want our cows because they produce more milk and maintain body condition better.

Get to know your cows, spend time with them and understand what normal cow behaviour is and what is not so you can pick up problems early.

Their behaviour will tell you whether they are getting fed enough, have got enough clean water and time to rest.

You’ll also see it in the tanker docket and then you’ll be happy too.