In the second week of my Easter holidays I spent three days at a neighboring dairy farm to my Grandad’s house. The farm was home to around 200 cattle and I joined the farmer to help with the daily milking. Milking was done twice a day, at 5am and 3pm, for all 200 cattle, unless they were in calf, and it took around 2-3 hours to milk them all. The cattle produced milk all the time after their first calf was born and would be allowed a two and a half month dry period before calving. In the first two days after calving, the milk would be fed straight to the calf, as the milk would be full of colostrum, but after the cows went straight back to producing milk for commercial purposes
On my first day we called in all the cattle from various fields and started the milking round. The routine was simple, all the cows knew their job and one by one they came into the milking parlour, 14 at a time, and were milked, producing 10-30 litres each. Firstly, the teats were disinfected and wiped down thoroughly, followed by attaching the milking units and then once the milking was completed, the teats were dipped in a germicide to stop any infection entering the teats at their most vulnerable and then the units were disinfected. The streak canal in the teat stays open for an hour after milking and so if a cow were to come into contact with pathogens that cause mastitis, they may easily enter the teat and cause an infection so this is why they are dipped after milking. After all the cows were milked I then watched two heifers being artificially inseminated. Artificial Insemination (AI) increases the chance of bringing the heifer into calf and also allows the sperm cells to be chosen so that there is an increased chance of the cow producing a heifer which is more beneficial for the business as the females are able to reproduce and produce milk.
Whilst on my placement I also learnt about the importance of pasture rotation in order to maximise the quality of milk produced by the cows. I found it interesting how the grass should not be below 3 inches or even above, as if the grass is too long it is wasted.
The farmer also taught me about the analysis of the milk quality and how the company that bought the milk would test it for certain elements or they would take money off the price of the milk. This meant that cows with mastitis had to be milked into a different canister and that milk would be thrown away. Another interesting fact I learned was that if a cow had mastitis in only one teat then the farmer would allow the cow to go dry on that one teat but continue to be milked in the other three in order to not lose good quality milk. Once the cow had gone dry on one teat, she would only produce milk in three of her teats until her next calve is born and if the mastitis had disappeared, she would then begin being milked on all four teats again.
It was really beneficial work experience seeing animals in a commercial set-up and learning about the situations when the vet would need to be called in. Currently I am sitting my higher SQA examinations and I am looking forward to the many work placements I have lined up in the next few months including a week at an equine referral hospital and two weeks in a wildlife orphanage in Zimbabwe.
Thank you for reading