The Farm

The entrance to the waiting area or parlour should not be dark and narrow, as cows will not enter if they can’t see where they are going. A light, well ventilated space will be much more enticing and promote better cow flow. The parlour exit should be clean, non-slip and have no sharp turns or restricting obstacles. As the cows have just been milked, it’s crucial that they can exit easily so they are not at risk of splashing their udders with manure or slipping over and getting their teats dirty.

Cows should be allowed to rest as soon as possible after milking, often having spent some two hours in the waiting area and parlour, so the quicker these animals are off their feet again the better for hoof health. Past advice has often been to wait for the teat orifice to close before allowing cows to lie down, to prevent bacteria from entering the teat canal after milking. However, this is a lengthy process, so as long as a good teat dip has been used and beds are reasonably clean, it should not be a problem to let these animals rest. Another important need for cows leaving the parlour is water. Free access to clean, fresh water must be provided directly after leaving the parlour, with plenty of space around troughs to prevent competition.

Automatic milking system (AMS)

In this system, cows are not herded up into one large group in a waiting area, but go to the milking robot by choice. This gives rise to fewer hoof conditions caused by the stress of being pushed into one small area and also gives the farmer a lot more time to concentrate on other jobs. It has been well documented that cows are a lot calmer in these systems, probably due to not having huge stresses placed upon them twice or three times a day at milking. Good hoof health is even more vital in this system and needs to be a point of continued concentration when entering into this method of production.

The crucial issue to remember here is that cows need to be able to walk soundly as they are not being collected for milking. If the animals are to go voluntarily to the milking box, they need to be free of pain or they simply won’t go. Although in general lame cows lie less, they will exhibit extended lying bouts along with irregular milking interval patterns. Their milkings may be delayed or they may not go to be milked at all. This can lead to a decrease in milk yield and a higher risk of mastitis, and the animals will ultimately need to be fetched by the farmer — counteracting the reason for buying this machine in the first place.

Any farmer considering investing in an AMS should be aware of the potentially negative fac­tors, meaning that management needs to be as different as the milking system is itself. Animals need to learn new behaviour and adapt to the system, which may initially include long waiting times in front of the AMS. This should only be the case in the early weeks after installation and should settle down once the cows are used to the system. As this can be a trying time. The farmer has to learn to adapt to the new system too: to actively watch the cows and check for disease, to read output from the software system and develop the skills to recognise when something is wrong.

In terms of lameness, the waiting area for the AMS should always be kept clean along with the milking box itself. Every cow being milked has contact with this platform and machine so good hygiene is essential.