30 November 2001

Behaviour a sign of uncomfortable cows

ARE your cows stressed and uncomfortable during milking? Their behaviour will tell you – all you have to do is look at the system from the cows perspective.

Cow and milker comfort equals quicker, efficient and more profitable milking, Ireland-based milking and mastitis specialist Helen Costello told BGS delegates.

"Like humans, cows have real fears and anxieties, will sulk and lose concentration.

"We have been blackmailing our cows with concentrates to bribe them into the parlour, but providing a safe and secure environment for them acts as encouragement," added Ms Costello.

The first potential stressor is the paddock gateway. Ask if its wide enough for cows to pass through easily or is it narrow and badly poached. Tracks leading to the parlour must be parallel and of good quality. "Even a 6in narrowing of the track will stress cows and when you cant walk on the track comfortably in wellies, how are cows going to walk on it bare-foot?"

Cows should enter the collecting yard so they face the parlour and the yard should not be slippery. "There is not enough room in the yard when cows are holding their heads up. Holsteins need 1.4sq m each of standing space."

The design of the yard will influence how easily cows enter the parlour. Check for dead corners, where cows can loiter and for areas which allow in-coming cows to watch others exiting the parlour, she advised.

"Backing gates are not meant to be bulldozers, they are there to remind cows to move – not frighten them into moving. But it will help if the parlour is inviting, rather than looking like a black hole. Additional lighting put across the pit, clear sheets in the roof or painting the walls a light colour will make the parlour appear more inviting."

The parlour is generally the cause of most cow discomfort, said Ms Costello. "Shiny metal or grease and hair on rails indicate cows are rubbing against fittings. They are not impressed with posts, gates or iron bars sticking into their body. Check widths and heights of breast and rump rails."

If cows all dung together, fail to let down all their milk or are reluctant to enter the parlour it could be caused by electric shocks from stray voltage.

"When left on the ground, electric fencing wire trips off the ground, sending shocks to cows.

"A volt meter can be used to assess whether there is a problem. The dial should read 0.000 or 0.001, anything over 0.004 will affect cows," she adds.

The milkers comfort is also important. "Correct pit depth reduces unnecessary body strain. A 1.70m (5ft 7in) person requires a 0.8m (35in) pit, while a 1.85m (6ft) milker requires 1m (38in)," said Ms Costello. &#42

Ensuring cow and milker comfort leads to quicker efficient and more profitable milking, said Helen Costello.

COMFORT CHECKS

&#8226 Gateway width.

&#8226 Shiny metal in parlour.

&#8226 Stray voltage.