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3 tips to prepare 2-year-olds for milking

Jessica Peters for Progressive Dairyman Published on 25 September 2018
2-year-old cows at feedbunk

Ten years ago, I made the three-hour trek to State College, Pennsylvania, to begin my college career. I was pretty sure I was armed with everything I’d need: photos of my family and friends, appropriately sized sheets, a little dry-erase board and a shower caddy. I was completely prepared, or so I thought.

The emotional turmoil was fairly traumatic. I left everything I knew behind to embark on a new experience that changed my life. Is that any different than what we’re asking of our 2-year-old cows? More than their surroundings are changing. They’re changing emotionally, physically and physiologically. Are you doing everything you can to make that transition less stressful?

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I’m not going to preach to you and pretend that I’m doing everything I can; we all have limits. On farms, those limits often involve labor, facilities and energy. There aren’t enough hours in the day. But over the years, we have taken several steps toward making their transition into the milking herd easier. I’m going to tell you about the three that made the biggest impact.

1. Regrouping

Ten years ago, we regrouped the entire barn. We went from a high, medium and low group to two mature cow groups and a 2-year-old group. We saw the benefits immediately in the form of 5 extra pounds of milk per cow per day. Not having to compete with the big cows gave them the chance they needed to live freely. They weren’t as timid to approach the feedbunk, and their waterer squabbles were much more evenly matched.

2. Timing

Behind regrouping, the second biggest benefit came from a simple timing issue. By bringing our first-calf heifers to the barn three to four weeks early, it has made milking fresh 2-year-olds a lot more pleasant. They come to the barn and live in the heifer group. They do everything the milking 2-year-olds do except go into the parlor. It familiarizes them with the facility and the routine, and makes calving a lot less stressful.

3. Feeding

The third tip kind of goes along with the second and is something we also do with our pre-fresh cows. When they come to the milk barn, they eat the lactating ration. Between the stress of calving and a new environment, adding a new ration in the mix makes life even harder. Getting them on a new diet a few weeks before they calve gives their body time to adjust before it goes through the even bigger challenge of calving.

Transitional periods in any life – human or bovine – can be tricky. They can truly make or break an experience. The transition a fresh 2-year-old goes through is literally life-changing. It is our job to make it as seamless as possible.  end mark

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Jessica Peters is a dairy farmer in Meadville, Pennsylvania. Follow her farm on Facebook.

PHOTO: Peters’ 2-year-old group has almost 75 freestalls and over 60 headlocks. It often holds over 80 animals. Thanks to the young cows’ curious nature, they handle a little overcrowding much better than the mature cows. Photo by Jessica Peters.

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