I worked at a long established family hill farm in Rossendale which is one of the last remaining hill farms milking in the valley.The farm is primarily dairy with over 100 cows as well as sheep.
The majority of the herd is Friesan because they are a hardy cow and give a good milk yield, they usual calf well and produce for many years. Some cows are Friesian crossed with Holstein which gives a taller, longer legged beast which yields a little more milk but doesn’t necessarily produce as long as a Friesian. One advantage of a cross is that they’re taller, so the udders are further from the ground…. So they’re easier to milk! Especially on a traditional stalls milking parlour as these cow is only approximately 14 inches from the ground level. Other cows were Ayrshire.
I assisted in the complete milking process. First of all, I got the cows in to the parlour (making sure there was the right number for the number of stalls). All of the cows had different personalities, quirks as well as potential dangers. For example, one cow would only be milked from one side otherwise it would kick you across the parlour! Some others were very keen to run into the stalls. Once they were in the stalls, I secured them in with the chain so they could not step backwards onto me as this could be fatal. It was interesting to see some cows look back at me, because I did not always give them food straight away. They will associate the milking process with food reward. I soon discovered that it was not a good idea to wipe the teats before feeding them! Food is a very good distraction for cows, and any animal.
After wiping the teats, I placed the milker onto the four teats- lots of trial and error due to the different sizes and placements of teats. One cow had next to no distance between her back teats, which was a great difficulty.
To know when to remove the milker, I had to observe the glass collection jaw and feel the cow’s udders to see if they was loose and less tense. I then removed the milker and then dipped the teats in iodine. As this is a traditional farm, the milking parlour is manual which means the milkers do not automatically retract and you have to release the feed and cows outside manually.
Care and consideration was given to those who were about to calf and those that were receiving treatments. If a cow had antibiotics in its system, the the milk would be milked separately for safe disposal. A major benefit of manual milking is the time spent with the cows. For example, if a cow was lame it would be evident when walking down into the parlour. If there were cuts, grazes or hoof problems, these would be identified very quickly so the animal would have a quicker recovery and have a happy, healthy life.
Coloured tapes are used on cows to identify if they are receiving any health treatments and also if one has only three functional (or literally) teats!
Getting the know the individuals is very important, not only for this but for safety. I had a near miss with a cow, so I would take a mental note of the tricky animal for future.
Following the milking is the plant and premises hygiene process to clear the parlour of animal waste products (slurry) and dropped food pellets. I scraped out and washed down the whole parlour. The vacuum milking plant was thoroughly cleaned and treated with a detergent and flushed ready for the morning milking session. Once all of the parlour was cleansed, I checked all of the cows were settled for the evening, that they had sufficient clean bedding and fresh water.
I had an amazingly pleasant surprise when I looked into the water trough as there were four goldfish swimming around in there. They were keeping it clean by eating the feed that drops in when the animals are drinking.
To finish the evening off, the farm ferel cats were given some of the freshly produced quality milk. They were definitely not pets but I could set my watch by the time each day they know they are getting a bowl of fresh milk from the parlour.
I appreciate and thank the farmers who enable me to get stuck in and answer all of my questions to help me gain real experience of farm life. Milking is still a challenge for me as the wires are easily tangled and pressing the suction button accidentally is a pain- but I have learned so much and will be milking throughout the year!