Cow flow: ‘You have to look through the eyes of a cow’

Since the abolishment of quotas the national herd has increased. But, while there are greater numbers of cows on farms, infrastructure on some farms has remained the same.

During one of the Farm Relief Services (FRS) Smarter Milking events, Jim Dockery – a training manager with FRS – discussed cow flow and what the host farmer, Michael Broderick, has done to improve this on his farm.

Kicking off the discussion, he said: “If I asked you to go out to the field and crawl back in here, you would be looking through the eyes of a cow. These are the eyes we need to look through when we are thinking about cow flow.

“In the past, the parlour and buildings were located in the most convenient place for the farmer, but they may not have been in the most convenient place for the cows.”

Micheal’s farm is well set up for the efficient movement of his cows into and out of the yard for milking. The collecting yard is circular in shape with a 10m wide backing gate.

“The cows enter the yard and they are all facing the right way – towards the back of the parlour. If the cows aren’t facing the right way a lot of churning goes on, which can put pressure on the first and second calvers.

“If the cow doesn’t have a positive experience in the yard each day it will show in the milk,” Jim added.

The farm pass entering the back of the collecting yard is wide – approximately 7-8m in width. It also has a large rounded bend approaching the collecting yard.

“Take note of the width of the pass entering the back of collecting yard; it is wide enough for eight-to-10 cows.

“See how the bend approaching the yard is rounded; cows don’t like sharp bends and a sharp bend can affect cow flow,” explained Jim.

Jim also mentioned the issues when cows come to a “catch point” between the roadway and the concrete yard.

“You need to be aware that there is no give in concrete. If the cow steps on that and there are small sharp stones there, it is going to end up in her hoof; so, it is really important to keep it clean,” he stated.

Turning to the exit from the parlour, he said: “Once the cow exits the parlour she is facing towards the green fields.

“Remember, when the cow exits the parlour, all she wants to do is get back to the paddock and fill herself with grass again; so she needs to be able to flow back to the paddock easily.”

The drafting unit on Micheal’s farm is located beside the parlour and is facing straight towards the farm roadway.