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How To Milk a Cow

| 4/9/2014 9:09:00 AM

cow headWhen I was a kid, an old dairy farmer I worked for told me: "Boy, it doesn't matter how you milk your cows as long as you do it the same way every time."  I’ve learned and lived his words for the past fifty years and, by gosh, are they true. Cows love routine.  The more things stay the same for cows, the safer and more secure they feel.  Here is my abbreviated list of best practices for milking a cow, learned over many decades in the barn.

Take the Common Milking Wisdom with a Grain of Salt

Much of the common wisdom about milking cows is geared towards encouraging the production of cheap milk rather than doing what is good for you and your cows.  As I wrote about in my last blog, the average life span of a cow on a commercial dairy is roughly four-and-a-half years.  My cows regularly live for ten-plus years because I don't burn them out.  I keep my cows healthy so that they live good, long lives and provide a return (and then some) on my investment. 


When I milk my cows, the first step is to sanitize the teats by dipping them in a mild iodine based teat dip approved for "pre-dipping".  To reduce the risk of being kicked, I dip the teats that are on the far side of the cow first.  If the cow has a sore teat or is just having a bad day and decides to kick, she will kick with her hind leg that is away from me instead of the one I am next to. 

I let the dip sit on the teat for at least 30 seconds.  Then, I clean and start each teat to check the milk flow and make sure the milk looks good.  This stimulates the cow’s milk production and encourages milk let down.  I don't use a strainer cup because I have been milking cows long enough to know when there is a problem with the milk.  If the cow is eating, seems normal (meaning the quarter is not swollen or hot and you don't feel any clots in the milk when you start her) she is probably okay.  I wipe the excess sanitizer off with a paper towel, using one towel per cow to minimize the possibility of spreading infection.  After another 30 seconds or so, I will put the milking unit on and leave the cow be until she is done.

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