Go with the flow
6 details that deliver happier cows and healthier productivity
The little details can make a massive difference when it comes to optimising the flow of your cows at milking time. We take a look at a few ways New Zealand dairy farmers can help the herd get in and out with minimal fuss and maximum output.
Avoiding the fuss and stress that comes with getting cows through milking time is a big focus with farmers for good reason. When cows are hesitant to step into the shed it increases time and effort and decreases overall herd health and quantity of milk flow.
Investing in more milking units as a ‘solution’ to help with cow flow won’t necessarily help either, particularly when there are a number of other approaches that should be taken first…
ONE: STAY AHEAD OF THE PACK
Correctly managing the herd numbers waiting in the yard can have a positive effect on milking productivity. In New Zealand this area of concern is most obvious in farms that have recently expanded in some areas but not others. Cramped, uncomfortable conditions in the yard can negatively affect the results on the platform.
One simple way of assessing if it’s an issue at your farm is to check how your cows are standing as they wait to go into the shed. If you’re finding a lot of cows have their heads up that means they’re too tight and are struggling.
TWO: KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON
Cows are prey animals and very adept at detecting threats. They are therefore particularly susceptible to anxiety about the dark and don’t like too much noise. A well-lit, quiet and calm milking environment provides a more productive end result.
Noise should be minimised – avoid any loud bangs on metal and definitely don’t shout at the cows. This just causes undue stress and reduces the speed of milk delivery. Your herd will especially struggle with the move from light to dark too. So, ensure any entrances to the shed are well lit and avoid lots of suspicious shadows (suspicious to the cows at least!)
THREE: STEP UP YOUR SURFACE QUALITY
Ensuring the surface is at (or above) standard is one of the best ways to increase cow confidence and productivity. A sure-footed cow is a safe and healthy one.
Have you noticed, when your lane starts getting bony or slushy, your cows start slowing down and doing their business – making it even worse? This in turn brings more stones onto your yard.
There is now a range of matting solutions to cover the entire journey through the milking process. With surfacing for the lane, yard, rotary and herringbone platforms, entry and exit areas the modern New Zealand farmer can significantly reduce the amount of lameness and falls. Pit surfacing for worker health and safety is also proving popular – which greatly helps overall productivity too.
FOUR: PAY ATTENTION TO THE SMALL DETAILS
Nobody wants to turn up where they don’t feel welcome – cows included. Show them you care by taking care of the small details and they’ll reward you with faster flow and easier milking.
Check the vacuum levels are always right, and that the automatic cup remover (ACR) settings and milking liners are also correct. Also consider how the cow is positioned in the stall, ensuring the size is correct for the larger animals.
FIVE: STAY FORWARD WITH THE BACKING
With careful momentum of your backing gate, you can keep cows close and moving forward without stress or accidental injury. Ensure the gate settings will prevent it from moving forward once it comes into contact with the animal and takes a measured approach to the movement. Once again, watch for heads going up – a sign your cows are under pressure and feeling anxious.
Here it pays to follow the ‘little and often approach, avoiding any dramatic movements and guiding the cows without increasing stress. You can even put a bell or soft alarm on the gate so cows can hear it move and naturally adjust their path with this noise.
SIX: KEEP IT CONSISTENT
Cows are creatures of habit and respond best to a consistent routine. Unfamiliar people or animals may cause them to become fearful and anxious the first time they encounter them, but with time, they will become familiar and relaxed. If the milking environment is ever-changing, cows will find it difficult to relax and milking won’t flow.
Once you’ve found a milking routine that works for you, stick to it. Make sure all milkers know the procedure and use it also. Avoid changing it unnecessarily. Your cows will quickly become used to the routine and milking will flow easily.
If you have any other questions about herd flow and how we can help please don’t hesitate to get in touch on 0800 686 119.