Team: Sorge, U. (PI)
Funding Source: MN Department of Agriculture - Sustainable Agriculture Demonstration Grant
Project Time Frame: 2015-2016
Milking heifers for the first time can be difficult, because they are not used to going through the parlor or to being handled in close proximity and might fidget a lot during milking. Not all herds can send prefresh heifers through the parlor to acclimate them to that environment. But heifers can be handled in their home pen to become used to being handled by people. To see, if this is enough to result in calm heifers during the first week of milking, we worked with heifers four times in their home pen prior to calving.
We made them walk through a chute twice per week after they arrived from the heifer raiser. In addition to activity monitors, we took blood samples and assessed the flight zone to objectively measure the changes in their behavior during the time. During the first days of milking we compared their behavior and milk production at the morning milking. Overall, the acclimated heifers could be approached closer on the day after arrival, but moved away earlier than the control animals a week later. Acclimated heifers tended to show less balking going into the parlor and were also stepping less during the udder preparation at milking. Although the results were promising, it would probably be better to work with the heifers closer to calving and also include gentle touch to increase the impact of interacting with them.
Video 1 shows how the heifers were brought up to the platform from the exercise lot:
Video 2 shows how the exercise was done with the heifers by the researcher: