How To Milk a Cow that Kicks

Reader Contribution by Steve Judge
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People who haven’t ever milked a cow are usually very concerned about being kicked when they milk for the first time. This is understandable.  Cows are big, powerful animals, and milking puts you right beside the strong hind legs and feet.  Most properly handled cows don’t kick when they are milked.  If you find yourself with what I call a kicky cow, there are steps you can take to manage the animal. Here are my tips for avoiding getting kicked and dealing with a kick-prone cow.

Move slowly. When you approach a cow to milk her move slowly and be gentle.  Give her a little pat on the rump, be alert and avoid sudden movements.  Be confident and show no fear.  If this is a cow you have never milked before, spend some time with her before you begin the milking process.  Put your hands on her hind legs and udder to see how she reacts.  Kneel down beside her and check her udder and teats for swelling and or injuries.  Almost every cow will kick when milked if her udder and/or teats are sore.

Know your cow’s movements. If a healthy, mature cow kicks when she is being prepped for milking, it is usually because she is just annoyed — at you for bothering her.  She is not trying to hurt you.  She’s just letting you know that she’s there. These kicks are slower, softer and much easier to control than the kick from a cow that truly wants to hurt you.  Experienced milkers can usually predict a cow’s “slow” kick.  She will shift her balance to her the hind foot that is away from you so she can kick you without falling over. 

Stay calm and get close. This may sound counter-intuitive to people who have little experience with cows, but when you go to prep and milk a kicky cow, it is much safer to stay as close as possible to her body and hind legs.  Approach your cow confidently and carefully. Kneel down beside her, get close and reassure her that you know what you are doing, even if you don’t.

Lean in with your shoulder and rest your head on her flank in front of her stifle. This way, she doesn’t have the room to wind her leg up and kick out.  If she tries to kick, use your shoulders and forearms as a block. In general, it never works to milk a cow from afar with your arms stretched out.  This freaks the cow out and you just look dumb.

Never lose your temper! Never yell at or strike a cow.  It just doesn’t work.  The only thing that works is patient reassurance.  Dairy farmers know how difficult this can be.  You work all day to take good care of your cows and then they show their appreciation with a good, swift kick.  Just remember that you chose to have cows. They didn’t choose to have you.

Try not to let your cows kick their milkers off. Detached and fallen milkers can suck up bedding and manure.  Be sure that the milking unit is securely attached to the cow and properly adjusted so that it hangs from the udder straight and with even pressure on all four quarters. If a cow kicks off a milker, don’t lose your temper. Calmly reattach the milker and give her a little, reassuring pat. 

I know that holding your temper and staying calm can be a real challenge when milking heifers. They love to kick milkers off.  Just be patient.  You don’t want your heifers to learn to fear or loath milking time.  Most cows naturally like to be milked if they view it as a positive experience.  Some of my heifers will kick off their milkers during every milking for the first few weeks.  It’s a pain, but the only approach that works is patience.

Avoid mechanical devices. 
I never use mechanical devices like hip clamps and hobbles to keep my cows from kicking.  There is no quicker or more effective way to teach a cow to dread the milking experience than to use these instruments.  I don’t even recommend using them in an emergency.  There are better non-mechanical ways to keep a cow from kicking, including lifting her tail (see photo demonstrating this technique) and following my advice. 

Keep quiet. Create a quiet environment when milking.  Avoid loud radios and other noises, especially metal clanging against metal, slamming doors and shouts.  Most cows will get used to dogs and kids under foot and the sounds of laughter and play.  Yelling is never good.

It’s OK to move the cow. Don’t be afraid to move the cow over in the stall so that you have enough room to reach the udder comfortably.  A firm push to the side will generally be enough.   She’ll need to move her feet and open her stance to keep her balance.  If you trust your cows, you can also put your foot on her hoof or shin, and she’ll move.  You can also use your forearm to push a leg back and out of the way.  After a while your cows will learn your routine and you will learn theirs.  It’s a two way street. 

Look out for injuries. A cow with an injured teat can be a vicious kicker, intent on making you leave her teat alone.  These cows require the patience of Job as the teat heals. Just reassure her that you mean no harm and do the best you can to get her milked out.  But, stay on high alert at all times.  Some cows will trust you more than others. 

Injured teats could be the subject of an entire book.  Call your vet if you are unable to get an injured teat to pass milk.  You need to get that quarter milked out or the cow will get mastitis. Just do as little as you need to do to heal the teat.

If all else fails and you cannot change your kicky cow’s ways, sell the cow to a commercial dairy where human-cow contact is minimal.  Cows that cannot be rehabilitated aren’t worth the effort or the risk of being injured, especially when you have children helping with the chores.  Plus, I have found that dealing with a mean cow first thing in the morning can ruin your whole day. The good news is that, often time, kindness and patience can do wonders to change a cow’s temperament.