We’d all like to reduce the fuss and stress that comes with getting cows through milking time.
To do this we have to recognise the conditions that lead to poor cow flow and makes cows hesitant to step into the shed
Poor cow flow can take a toll on the animals, staff, and can impact your budgets. It slows down the milking process which means cows are off pasture for longer. This results in less time resting, eating, and drinking which directly correlates with decreased milk production and animal health.
There are a number of small details that can make a difference when it comes to optimising cow flow at milking time. In this article, we’re going to explore a few of these options and how farms can get the herd in and out with minimal fuss.
Cows should be able to enter and exit the milking parlour in a relaxed and gentle manner. Loud noises, poor handling, and unpredictable surfaces cause the cows to become jumpy, unsettled, and more prone to making sudden movements that can lead to injury.
There are two main factors that affect cow flow on the dairy farm. They are the dairy farmer and the farm facilities being used. Having the right attitude and level of care when handling the cows is one, if not the most, important thing that can impact cow flow. Using the right tone of voice, gentle gestures, and a good level of awareness and understanding of the animals and potential risks can make all the difference. Likewise, good and clean facilities will also have an effect. The facilities being used should be designed to suit the needs of the cows. This helps to make the milking environment more comfortable and pleasant for the cows, and in doing so encourages better flow.
The benefits of having good cow flow
Having good cow flow means that milkings are far more efficient. When your herd flows well, the cows move voluntarily, they milk better because they are content and relaxed, and staff are less likely to get impatient and contribute to any nervousness the cows might have.
Studies show that consistent routine contributes to better cow flow. This doesn’t just mean having the same milking time each day, but it also includes walking speed, noise volumes, milking techniques, appropriate use of the backing gate, and non-slip surfacing. All these factors play a role in making the cows feel comfortable and confident when entering the milking parlour.
Here are a few things to be considering:
- Staff members should be comfortable during milking time. After 2 hours most people start to feel a little tired and begin to lose patience. This results in stress and poor observations. Discomfort and impatience can also lead to human error or not being able to pick up on potential hazards or conditions the cows might be dealing with which can lead to things like mastitis and lameness. Animal handling and cow flow suffer if staff members are not able to perform at their best.
- Make sure our staff know to be patient and gentle. Loud shouting, angry voices, and excessive use of the backing gate can lead to injury and cause the cows to become nervous.
- Installing rubber mats both in the pit and on the milking platform can draw cows into the parlour while also creating a comfortable surface for staff members to stand on as opposed to concrete.
- Concrete areas should be grooved appropriately if they do not have a rubber surface over top. This is to make sure the floors are slip-resistant and cows can walk comfortably.
- Ensure the parlour is well lit and there is not too much noise. Unusual and loud noises make cows hesitant and can reduce milking speeds. Minimising shadows and making sure surfaces and locations are well lit also helps increase cows’ confidence throughout the milking experience.
- Eliminate any sharp turns and potential hazards. This will help cows move faster and reduce any bottleneck effects out of the parlour.
Some ways to achieve good cow flow
There are a number of things you can do to achieve better flow and make the process of moving the cows as painless as possible. Here are some pointers:
- Observe how the cows are behaving using their body language. Often times when you see the herd walking with their heads raised, it can mean that they are feeling pressured and hurried along. This is important to note because when cows walk with their heads up, they can’t see where they are placing their feet. They can’t see stones or slip hazards and they can’t avoid the dominant cows in the herd. To avoid this, slow down. Allow the cows to spread out a little.
- If the herd comes to a stop, avoid putting extra pressure on the rear cows. Cows move in a hierarchical system. The more dominant cows in the herd tend to lead at the front and take the middle of the path, while the less dominant cows move to the edges and fall further back. When the cows come to a stop, it is better to move towards the front and encourage the cow upfront to move along, as the herd will follow their lead. Applying pressure to the back is not very effective in increasing cow flow and can often cost you more time.
- Group cows together according to development, purpose, or state. Cows form strong bonds with others in their herd, and it is best to move them in these groups. For example, keeping heifers together, or older cows together. This will reduce any sort of “bullying” within the herd and will therefore improve cow flow.
- Cows love consistency and structure but oftentimes, cows have a different walking order to their milking order. This means that they need some time to re-arrange themselves in the yard prior to milking.
- Keep your tracks well maintained. Tracks should be wide enough to accommodate the size of your herd. This allows for a comfortable amount of space for the cows to spread out. It also means that vehicles that use these tracks have enough space too. Make sure that tracks are also clear of rocks or any other obstacles to avoid injury. Tracks should also be even and not steep.
- The yard should be purpose-built and non-slip. Concrete surfacing is still the most popular surfacing, but it should be grooved appropriately and kept clean to prevent slipping. Softer and durable surfacing options like rubber matting can also help improve cow flow by creating a more comfortable surface for cows to spend time on. A rubber surface can help encourage normal cow behaviour by creating a pasture like surface for them to stand on.
Is rubber matting the answer?
Having a comfortable, clean, and non-slip surface is an effective way to help increase cow flow on your farm. We have seen that cows prefer to stand on rubber surfacing rather than concrete on multiple occasions. Rubber surfaces can provide the animals with confidence and comfort in where they are stepping. Making an investment in good surfacing is beneficial for both stock management animal safety. Laying rubber surfacing on your existing concrete floors can also reduce damages and maintenance costs on your concrete surfaces while keeping cows comfortable and preventing hoof problems. Rubber matting creates coverage that feels pasture-like for the cows and accommodates their normal behaviour without adding the stress of slips and injuries.
Farmers come to us for rubber matting every day. Those that install it, swear by it. Some of these farmers have let us use their farms as case studies and testimonials. We have interviewed a range of farmers and collected their feedback, you can check out the videos and decide for yourself if rubber surfacing is an answer for you.