First-time calvers can often be nervous of the milking parlour. The sights and sounds can be distressing because it’s all new to them.
When accustomed, cows love entering the milking parlour and there’ll often be a stampede to get in, as cows like being milked, plus they usually get some nuts or meal in the parlour also, which is an added incentive.
However, there’s nothing more frustrating than trying to deal with a nervous first calver or heifer in the parlour.
While training heifers to the parlour before calving doesn’t guarantee that they won’t kick off clusters after calving, it definitely helps to keep them settled and avoids the issue of heifers not wanting to walk into the parlour.
It’s better to deal with all these issues at this time of year in advance of calving, rather than training heifers when the farm is already busy at calving.
The task of training heifers usually involves just running them through the parlour multiple times over the course of four or five days until all heifers are entering freely and are comfortable with their surroundings.
The first time they enter, it’s best to let them just walk straight through the herringbone parlour. If using a rotary, there is no choice but to let them go around and, if so, they should be fed a small amount of meal to encourage them on and to encourage them back on.
It’s sometimes best to have the meal out before they enter, so that they line up correctly
After a few times walking through a herringbone, the front gates should be closed and they should be offered meal. It’s sometimes best to have the meal out before they enter, so that they line up correctly. This may mean having to nudge the first few heifers in up to the front.
There’s no doubt that some heifers will decide to turn around and face the wrong way and, while frustrating, it’s important to remember that it’s better they do this now rather than next month.
After repeating this a number of times over a number of days, the heifers should be lining up well. If in difficulty, include a few cows with them that will show them where to go and what to do.
It’s important to keep the experience a positive one for the heifers. Avoid a lot of shouting or the use of sticks to hunt them in. This only increases anxiety and will make the heifers nervous.
When the heifers are lined up, it’s a good idea to spray their teats with teat spray. This has been found in previous trials to reduce the risk of mastitis.