Milking Cows: Five Mistakes to Avoid
The process of milking cows requires a consistent milking routine and proper udder preparation to increase milk flow and reduce milk-out times. Some of the most critical items I have seen over the years that limit cows to have complete and faster milk-outs are:
- Not enough teat stimulation.
Milk is produced in the upper part of the udder in microcells called alveoli. In order for the alveoli to release the milk contained in the cells the process of milk let down has to start by the presence of oxytocin in the udder. Oxytocin is released by the brain when there is enough of stimulation through the nerve endings in the teat.
Stimulation is one of the concepts that in many cases is not very well understood. For oxytocin to be released, the cow needs at least 10-13 seconds of contact time or stimulation. This can be achieved through dry wiping, fore-stripping, use of a mechanical wand or any other task where we are manipulating teats. It is very common to see milking operators perform these tasks extremely fast, or incomplete and well short of 10-13 seconds of continuous contact time.
- Not enough pre-dip and post-dip coverage.
Pre-dip and post-dip coverages have different purposes during milking, however both of them share the same goal to safeguard the cow from getting mastitis. Some of the reasons for not having enough coverage that I have seen over the years is:
- The lack of communication between multiple parlor operators when releasing a set of cows back to the pen and allowing undipped cows to return to the barn.
- Opening exit gates too soon while trying to finish post-dipping cows at the same time.
- Not enough product in the dip cups because operators don’t squeeze the bottes to allow product to come out while pre-dipping multiple cows.
- Trying to dip two teats at the same time.
- Not paying attention to getting the teat inside the dip cup and trying to perform this task too fast.
- Not adjusting the unit after unit attachment.
A lot of time and effort is put into prepping cows, and unit placement is one of most overlooked tasks while milking cows. Unit placement is a key factor to obtain complete and even milk out. Depending on the parlor type, the most observed mistake is not using any type of hose holder. A milker may adjust the unit and leave too much hose past the parlor curb, forcing the unit out of place. Heavy hoses without a hose holder will detach units early due to air squawks, and uphill hoses will act like milk flow restrictors causing uneven milk-outs.
- Ignoring early fall-offs and liner squawks.
Attaching units too soon after initial stimulation or not having enough stimulation will cause lack of milk flow due to the absence of milk let down. These will result in the unit to fall off shortly after unit attachment. Incorrect unit placements will cause liner squawks and early fall-offs.
- Not providing a stress-free environment.
I was recently in a dairy where the owner’s message to the milking team was that he wanted a stress-free work environment. In his explanation to the team his message was to focus on the quality of work they did with the cows and the quality of treatment to the cows. He felt a work environment where people tried to do work fast and press cows to move fast in the parlor creates an overbearing work environment where people stress. This bears on people’s attitude towards work, causing higher employee turnover and creating a stressful workplace. Focusing on work quality and the quality of treatment to the cow would allow people to take pride in their work and create a stress-free work environment.