If you’ve ever wondered if cows enjoy being milked, you came to the right place. You could ask the cow but unfortunately, she only speaks cow. We can, however, get our feedback via visual, audial, and emotional cues to determine her stress level and experience.
To Milk or not to Milk
The cows don’t hate going to the milk barn but rather enjoy it. In fact, the cows are quite upset when the milking schedule is not followed on time. They will crowd the gate waiting for it to be opened so they can go to milking. Loud protests of mooing will occur if the farmer is really late. Otherwise they will be patient but still be waiting intently.
When the gate is opened some cows will run with joy. It is a sight worth seeing.
(L) My sister gathering the cows for milking on our farm (R) Visiting a farm in the Netherlands, the cows act the same way when its milking time
New milking systems are set up to be completely voluntary for the cows. Robotic milking machines now can give the cow the option to milk at her desired schedule. She can enter the machine anytime she likes – completely voluntary. Interestingly, the technology has found that a cow likes to be milked 3.5 times per day. Some were entering the robot more, but to keep it fair for all the cows, there is a limit imposed at how many times she can be milked.
When given the option- to milk or not to milk- the cow will choose milking every time.
Milking robots give the cows the freedom to how many time per day they would like to be milked
In the barn, she is quite comfortable. There is shade and cooling fans to keep her cool. Usually, there is some music to keep her relaxed and entertained.
Part of the milking process includes washing her teats and stimulating them. By stimulating her teats before milking, it allows a hormonal release of oxytocin that encourages her to let down her milk.
Oxytocin produces antidepressant-like effects in animal models of depression and I’m sure is a great release for the cows- It is the love hormone after all.
The more relaxed a cow is, the better she will let down her milk. A cow filled with fear and adrenaline will not letdown her milk easily. So farmers are conscious to create a calm and relaxed environment for her. Adrenaline will directly block the action of oxytocin and milk letdown. (Source) There is good reason to keep the cows relaxed.
The milking attachment is soft and flexible allowing great comfort for the cow’s teats. It has been learned in the past that if the milking attachment is not first-rate, damage to the cow’s teats can occur. Modern milking units have been designed with over 100 years of continuous improvement. Today’s milking unit can hardly be felt, are lightweight, and extremely flexible.
The cow’s time in the milk barn is quite relaxed. You will rarely find them mooing, but instead, use their time to ruminate on some feed they ate prior to going to the milking parlor. If she is ruminating, it usually means she is fully relaxed.
I’m sure the whole milking process becomes subconscious to them; you know how you form a habit. You find yourself driving but can’t remember half the drive.
How cows are milked
Cows don’t spend much time getting milk either. The average milking time on our dairy is about 12 min/ cow/ milking.
The total amount of time spent with the milking unit attached would be about 24-36 minutes per day. I’m sure you spend more time in the gym and you definitely spend more time than that at your job.
A cow basically puts in a ½ hour of work and then spends the rest of her day eating, sleeping, and ruminating. Hardly similar to the high-pressure lifestyles we humans face.
We should learn to be more relaxed like the cows.
I’m trying to figure out how to work ½ hour/ day – that may be the key!
The Milking Pressure
You may think, of course, cows like to be milked; the milk they produce causes great pressure. A modern dairy cow can produce on average about 70 lbs. or milk per day, that is 8 gallons of milk each day.
While this is true, it is not unnatural pressure or extremely harmful for the cow to produce such a large amount of milk. It’s not that large amount when you think about her size. Here is the proper perspective:
- A cow weighs 1,500 lbs. and produces an average 70lbs. per day.
- Being milked 2-3 times per day she is at most carrying 35 lbs of milk at a time.
- At 1,500 lbs, 35 lbs is 2.33% of her bodyweight.
Comparatively, if you weight 150 lbs. that would amount to carrying a 3.5 lbs. weight. Carrying a 3.5 weight would not be super unrealistic or unnatural for a person of this size. Carrying 35lbs of milk is not physically impossible or unnatural for a cow especially since cows are physically designed to carry this weight squarely between her legs.
Milk Production an Indicator
The biggest indicator if a cow is comfortable is her milk production. If she is not happy, she will lower her milk production more quickly than if she is happy and healthy. That is why her output is a great scorecard to measure if we are doing a good job or not in keeping her happy, comfortable, and low stress
The cow is not powerless in voicing her opinion; she votes with her milk. Only people giving her the best care will get the best output from her.
Note: The featured picture is a picture of some cows in the Netherlands anxiously waiting for the gate to be opened so they can go to milking. The cows on our farm here in California act the same way. A world apart but the same animal.
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