My classmates and I are responsible for the evening milking of the Cornell Dairy Herd. We have a herd of Holsteins (and one Jersey, named Helen) that we milk in a double parlor. We enjoy it a lot and think it is a perfect way to get outside, leave the books, spend some hands-on time with the cows, and learn what it takes to supply milk for the manufacturing of dairy products. The milk is used to make Cornell cheese, ice cream, milk, and any variations of those food items.
One thing that I think is crucial to the successful husbandry and milking of dairy cows is low stress handling. For me, it is essential for the cows to be as happy as possible in order to supply us with as much milk as they can in a comfortable manner. Here are a few things I have learned milking cows since I started out milking in Vermont in 2012.
- Less is more. When trying to move cows into certain areas, it is sometimes easier to let them figure it out themselves and follow their herd mates. I always jokingly say “cow talk works best” when describing how to move cows. There are times when it takes two people to move one stubborn cow into a particular place. On a different night, that cow will willingly walk to the same place just because she is following a herd mate or a herd mate is pushing her from behind saying, “Get a move on!” Despite our efforts, we are usually proven to be inferior to the cows when it comes to cow talk.
- Being quiet. The next time you drive or walk (or run!) by some cows, stop and watch them for a minute. Are they noisy? Are they running around? In my experience, they are usually quiet and either eating or lying down while ruminating. When working with them, I try to keep things as quiet as possible. Sure, a verbal cue every now and then is fine, but if everything is going well I tend to keep my mouth shut and let the cows lead the way.
- Give clear signals. Sometimes the cows make mistakes. They go the wrong way. They slip and run into another cow. They have little fights with each other. They all have spirits, and they have feelings just like any other being. Because of that, sometimes things don’t go as smoothly as we would hope. When this happens, it is important to give clear signals to them so we can correct the problem. If they go the wrong way, let them know by moving to one side of them so that they know to move away from you. If they are going somewhere that is dangerous, get in front of them and make a hand motion or two, or even speak loudly so that they know to not come this way. The clearer the signal, the better.
- Enjoy them and respect them. It is a high honor that we get to milk cows, take care of them, and enjoy their milk in the form of food products. This puts a large responsibility on us. When caring for such a naive animal, we must take the most care and be very attentive to our own actions.