Cow comfort in the milking center is important because it impacts both the efficiency and effectiveness of the milk harvesting. Poor cow comfort in the milking center can impact cow performance on a broader basis as well.
Take the time to closely watch how your cows interact with this part of your production environment. You may be surprised by what you find.
A systematic look at the milking-time process through the eyes of the cow many times reveals opportunities that can have significant impacts.
Hours spent in the holding pen and parlor are often a significant portion of the cow's daily time budget. As a general rule, minimizing the time spent with these processes increases the time available for eating, ruminating and lying down.
The industry has widely published rules of thumb for how long a cow should spend in the holding pen and parlor based on the number of milkings per day. I find these to be a good start, but they are by no means set in stone.
For example, when heat stress is a concern, the area with the highest probability of affecting cows adversely is when they are crowded into the holding pen. If heat stress management strategies in the pens are poor, any time spent there can have a negative effect. On the other hand, if heat abatement strategies are really effective then not only does it minimize impact to cow performance but probably represents one of the biggest bangs you will get for your dollars invested in cow cooling.
Footing and standing surfaces can also have a significant impact on cow comfort, as does the way in which cows are moved back and forth from pens to parlor. Remember: We want a clean, calm cow entering the parlor for milking.
Cows can be trained (either rightly or wrongly) as to how easily they enter the parlor. How lighting and entrances and exits are configured can be huge contributors to how comfortable cows are with their surroundings.
Once the cow enters the parlor, how comfortably she can stand to be milked makes a substantial difference. There is a balance between restricting the cow's movement so they can be milked efficiently and cramming her into an area that will not allow her to stand normally. Factors like irregular floor surfaces and grates can also contribute to cows fidgeting in the parlor because they are uncomfortable.
Probably the most important aspect of cow comfort in the parlor is the cow's interaction with the milking unit. Poor unit adjustment, improper machine function and prolonged claw times will all contribute to a low level of cow comfort in the parlor.
Additionally, providing workers with a safe, comfortable environment will certainly affect their attitude. That, in turn, potentially impacts the cows they are working with.
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- You are reading an extended version of this column that ran in the October issue of Dairy Today.