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 Training a Milk Cow

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maryjane Posted - Dec 16 2019 : 4:58:21 PM
If I've learned anything the past 20 years of cow keeping, it's this: you have to train a first-time heifer.

Buttercup will have her first calf this coming April 29. Four months ago, I started bringing her into my wash station every day. It was hit or miss the first month. Sometimes she'd come, sometimes not. I teased her with grain and eventually she'd come through the door and put her head into my outside wash station stanchion to eat her nibbles, but she nearly pulled the thing off the wall the first time her head was locked in.

So for another month, I let her get used to coming through the outside gate on her own and putting her head into the stanchion but I didn't lock her head in. After she'd eaten her treat, she was free to roam around in the outside bay to look around and smell things (and knock things over occasionally--she totally panicked whenever that happened). It was still summer-y out, so I left the door to the parlor open and she'd stand and watch me milk Miss Daisy. Eventually, she started putting one foot over the threshold and then both front feet. One day, she s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d her body as far as she could and grabbed one of my hand towels with her mouth (and then bolted to the back of the bay as fast as she could).

After she got used to all the milking machine noises, I starting brushing her entire body. Whenever I was near the head-lock mechanism, I'd jiggle it and make a bunch of noise. Eventually, she got used to it and now she lets me shut her head in without fanfare.

Next, I started putting the hose to her feet to wash them off. One of her hind legs wanted to kick at the water, so I switched to washing her front feet first. Eventually, by the time I got to the back feet she'd forgotten to object, so I continued that routine for a good two weeks.

Touching her udder came next. I started slowly with just a gentle hello. Next, I washed it with a towel. At this point, I can rinse her udder with the warm water of the hose and give it a good, soapy scrub without any objection at all.

The last few days, I put a halter/lead rope on her and coaxed and pulled her into the head lock in the parlor. Today, was hugely successful. Everyday, she gets less nervous and today she started to get the hang of backing out (tricky maneuver for a cow, but necessary because my parlor is so small).

I've also been able to put a hobble cuff on her. Today I took it on and off several times. I'll wait a couple more weeks before I hook the cuff and hobble her to my side rail because that first time she tries to shuffle her feet and one of them is hooked up, she won't like it. I'll go slow. I might wait another month before I tackle that.

So far, so good. I'm on schedule for April. It's rare for a heifer to magically turn into a good milk cow the same day she gives birth for the first time. It takes a lot of daily training beforehand, but the rewards are plentiful (and tasty).

Every heifer is different. It's a matter of adapting to her needs/fears and playing it by ear, one day at a time. There isn't a formula other than to do it daily and do it over and over again.

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maryjane Posted - Dec 20 2019 : 4:15:24 PM
Progress! Miss Buttercup walked into the parlor and back out by herself today, no halter/lead rope required. And no flinching when I handled her. Steady as a rock.
NellieBelle Posted - Dec 20 2019 : 04:18:04 AM
Looks like Buttercup is on her way! Congrats on all the progress and hopeful all goes smoothly in April. I won't be training another heifer for a while yet. Probably start in the spring with Estella. Each heifer is different and some require more work than others. Nice when things work without a hitch. Just like dogs in some respects. Dogs are as good as the time you put in training with them and it's the same with heifers. No training and you have heifers and dogs as wild as a March hare. Love Buttercup's face in the last photo.