The sooner heifers associate milking with a pleasant experience, the sooner they settle into a calm milking pattern. Cattle are creatures of habit so the bottom line is consistency. Training heifers will allow them to adjust to the dairy and make milking easier in those early days.
It will take three to seven visits to the dairy before the heifers begin to feel comfortable in this new environment. It takes about two weeks to establish a quiet, reliable response to milking.
The CowTime Guidelines outline ways to train heifers to come into the dairy.
Heifers can be introduced to the yard and dairy a few weeks before calving so they can get to know the physical layout of the dairy and experience walking on concrete. Lead feeding in the shed will encourage them to enter the dairy. After this training some heifers will lead the herd into the dairy, rather than hanging at the back of the herd.
Running with the herd
Another approach is to run heifers with the milking herd for a fortnight before they calve so they go through the shed with milking cows. Some farmers even calve their heifers several weeks before the main herd so they can get used to the dairy before the mature cows are being milked.
Cows have good short-term and long-term memories and will readily learn a variety of tasks. Strong physical or emotional states (good food, fear, pain) are likely to result in strong memories.
Cows are quick to learn to associate people or locations with rewarding or negative experiences. This characteristic is why cattle respond well to establishing positive, consistent handling routines.
While the unfamiliar environment of the dairy may initially provoke moderate fear, heifers do learn to become familiar with the environment over time. The effort that you put in early on to establish a consistent routine for your heifers that ensures a positive experience in the dairy shed will reward you in the long run.
For more information refer to the CowTime Guidelines for milk harvesting at CowTime >Technical Information >Guidelines.