By Dr Clive Dalton
There is now plenty of research to show that cattle can learn basic routines in a very short time, and these can result in economic benefits to the farming business.
With hand milking and in the early days of machine milking when herds were small, the importance of the ‘human-animal bond’ was well known. In the recent move to large herds, there has been a massive tendency to forget about cow behaviour and the importance of ‘stockmanship’, which is all about this intriguing bond.
With the rising costs and worldwide shortage of skilled labour, especially in large herds, management needs to exploit the human-animal bond to produce more milk with high animal welfare standards, which will achieve high returns on capital invested.
The animal's view
On the animal side, because milking letdown is under hormone control, cows which are less stressed produce more milk, have lower Somatic Cell Count (SCC) so milk quality is improved, and they have less mastitis with less pain and suffering, and reduced veterinary costs.
The human's view
On the human side, when the milking routine is a pleasant experience, the milkers’ positive vibes are automatically transferred to the cow, and especially the maiden heifer calving for the first time.
If the human has trained the heifer well for this first lactation so she won’t meet any novel or traumatic experiences during milking, then a successful outcome in achieved in terms of animal welfare, animal health, veterinary costs and more milk in the silo for the rest of her life.
Heifer training routine
The heifer training routine below has been developed by Landcorp Pastoral Farming near Taupo, under the supervision of Farm Manager David Morgan.
It is to be highly commended as an example of how the human- animal bond should be exploited.
- Bring heifers from the paddock into the collecting yard at the dairy and let them stand without disturbance. This allows them to experience the smells and sounds and feel the hard concrete under their feet.
2. No people should be present and no radio playing or any other noise.
3. No access to milking bails (note gate across entrance to bails to close them off).
4. Gate between entry and exit to and from the platform open (see picture above). This allows free exit from the yard.
5. Heifers should exit and move away from the yard and out of sight of those standing waiting. They have got to appear to be escaping back to a paddock.
6. Do this routine for 3 days.
- Bring heifers into the collecting yard.
- No people present.
- Radio on.
- Allow access to 3 bails with feed (molasses) in the troughs.
- Allow free exit from the yard, again making sure heifers appear (to their mates standing in the yard) to be escaping in a regular flow.
- Do this for 4 days. Over this time, most heifers will have learned to enter a bail to taste the feed, and back off while it is stopped.
- The platform is set moving at the lowest speed possible.
- Radio on.
- Milking machines turned on.
- All the bails are kept full of feed.
- Heifers are allowed to enter and leave the bail on their own.
- While on the bail, udders are treated with wetit and/or teatspray.
- Near the end of each session, a person gently guides any reluctant heifers to enter the platform with a small backing gate. By the end of 2 days of this practice, all heifers are happily going on the platform. (See picture below - manager showing where he stands holding gate).
Farm manager showing where he stands to encourage any of the last reluctant heifers to go on to the platform. He quietly closes the gate behind them so they walk on.
8. The total training has taken 2 weeks.
- Heifers calve with the cows.
- They come in for their first milking after their calves have been picked up in the calving paddock.
- Their udders are massaged before the cups are put on for the first time.
Heifers return to grazing on their own with no dogs or stress, attracted by a new feed break.