Many people ask the same question when they see a dairy cow having a milk machine attached to her body:
Are you hurting a cow by milking her?
The short answer is no.
The long answer is still no. But with an explanation as to why.
A cow's udder is a sensitive organ that is designed so that her calf can latch on with his mouth and get that highly nutritious opaque, white body fluid we call "milk" from her. It is quite like a woman's breasts, which also fill up with milk soon after birthing.
So just an aside: Cows, and all female mammals, produce milk soon after birth. So in order to produce milk, they must give birth, not be pregnant.
Now, just imagine that sensitive organ filling up with milk to the point where it literally looks swollen. Again, this is a sensitive organ we're talking about here. When a sensitive organ is swollen for whatever reason, it gets painful.
Think of a more disgusting situation: You have an abscess or boil that is pus-filled on the inside of your leg. Is that going to be a painful boil? I sure hope you said yes because if you said no I'd be worried!
So when that cow's udder keeps producing milk and there's no calf or human hands or milk machine to relieve that painful pressure that keeps building and building, it is indeed painful and quite uncomfortable for that cow. Just like that boil between your legs: It gets so full of pus that it's painful, and the only way to relieve it is to release that pus inside.
Now, let me get this straight: Milking out a cow is FAR less disgusting than lancing a boil or abscess. And the resulting fluid is quite a bit more nourishing!!
Another aside: Milk doesn't have pus in it. If it did, no calf would be able to subsist well on it.
When a cow is milked out, that is a relief for her. It makes the pain go away, and she feels much better. Cows always like it when things happen to them that make them feel safe and happy, and pain-free. Regular milking is associated with this particular feeling.
Cattle are always going to go toward a source that makes them feel good. This is why dairy cows don't need to be made to go to milking. Rather, they are waiting at the gate and eager to get into the milking parlour, before the people who are going to milk them out are even ready to do so.
Let me put it again this way: When something positive and rewarding that gives them comfort and makes them, in a word, "happy", that animal quickly learns to seek out that source again and again. It can be a place, a person, or an object.
Cows get accustomed to regular milking because a) they’re creatures of habit and like it when things are kept on a timely schedule, no matter if it’s feeding, milking, whatever; and b) milking, as a pain and stress-reliever, becomes something cows quickly learn as a positive reward; all animals, including us humans (normally), don’t like things that cause pain and discomfort, and once something painful and discomforting has gone, we–or they–do our/their best to avoid it happening again.
Cows are often seen waiting patiently, yet eagerly, on the other side of the gate to the milking parlour because they know that good things will come when they enter: They get treats, and that pressure on their sensitive udder gets relieved. Plus, as already mentioned it's a part of their daily routine.
What can be painful with milking for a cow is if they have mastitis, which is a bacterial infection of the udder; usually it occurs in one quarter, rarely more. Milking-out can be somewhat of a relief, but any bumping or excessive pulling can be considerably painful; sometimes mastitis gets so bad that even touching the infected quarter can cause a cow to kick out or move in discomfort. Mastitis is all too common in dairies, though many practices of good hygiene and regular cleaning is made so that incidences are reduced with the target of elimination.
It may also seem like cows don't enjoy milking if you happen to observe a cow that most often is a young cow that just got introduced into the milking schedule who isn't quite adjusted to the whole aspect of being milked out just yet. She'll be the one who is doing the kicking as the teats are being cleaned and the suction cups being attached, the impatient shifting of one foot to another, or generally throwing a bit of a diva-like fit at milking time. (Any other time she's acting perfectly fine and content.) Rarely do you ever get a cow that just doesn't like being milked out no matter what, even if she's been at it for 5+ years.
Overall though, milking is not painful for cows. Most actually enjoy it, because they know good things come at milking time.
Range Nerd, Forage & Grazing Fanatic and a Bovine Enthusiast. A love for farming, and for the soil.
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