Frequently Asked Questions
(back to Technical Information)
These FAQs have been compiled from questions asked by dairy farmers at our CowTime Courses during the "Ask the Technical Expert" sessions. Answers come from the CowTime Guidelines and Quick Notes and links are provided to the relevant sections.
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Paddock to Yard
How can I improve cow movement out of the paddock?
What size should a paddock gate be?
What are the recommended widths of laneways for different sized herds?
What is the ideal surface for laneways?
How do you prevent the buildup of muck under fence lines?
What is the disadvantage of cows walking long distances to the dairy?
How do I control water in laneways?
Are woodchips a benefit in high flow areas?
What is the recommended size of entry into the back of yard?
How do I train heifers to enter the dairy for the first time?
What is ideal entry design for a dairy?
What are some important issues about using backing gates?
Should I use an electrified backing gate?
How much room does a cow need in a holding yard?
What can I do to help my cows on a hot day?
What are the best types of sprinklers/sprays?
Where in the yard should entry gate be?
How wide should the track be at the yard gate?
What slope should the cow yard be at?
What sort of surface should the cow yard have?
I have narrowed the entrance race? ie 800 x 2-4m to steady cow flow for electronic reading of ear-tags. Does this improve cowflow?
In the Dairy
Whats a good way to communicate my requirements to the assistant
What is the best design for cow exit?
What is the best cow angle in the bale for the best flow?
How much noise is acceptable in the dairy?
How much teat spray per cow should I use?
Does the use of ACRs improve the effectiveness of miking?
How much room should the cow have on the milking platform?
What are the optimum litres per set of clusters of water?
Is my yard suitable for a flood wash system?
Is installing an air purge system useful for my dairy?
What are the advantages of using an automatic plant washing system?
How long should washing up take?
Q: How can I improve cow movement out of the paddock?
A: Unless correctly designed, paddock gateways may be one of the key factors limiting how fast cows travel to the dairy. Any aspect that restricts cow-flow from the paddock into the laneway should be avoided.
- If the gate from the paddock to the lane is narrower than the lane, it will create a bottleneck.
- Lane width will limit cow speed generally there is no advantage in gates wider than the laneway.
- Paddock gates should be the full width of the lane to enhance cow-flow.
- Optimum positioning of gates can make it easier to get the cows out of the paddock.
- Angled, or offset, gates improve cow-flow and reduce laneway wear.
- Provide two access points to the paddock using V gates (double gates) angled at 45 to the lane.
- V gates increase cow speed by removing the need to do a 90 turn into the lane.
- V gates can reduce the muddiness of gateways as cow traffic is halved.
- V gates also provide direct paddock to paddock access useful when moving dry stock or machinery.
[See CowTime Guidelines Chapter 3, pages 44-45 + illustrations for more details]
Q: What size should a paddock gate be?
A: Paddock gates should be the full width of the lane to enhance cow-flow.
[ See CowTime Guidelines Chapter 3, page 44]
Q: What are the recommended widths of laneways for different sized herds?
A: The number of cows in the herd should determine the width of a farms laneways. New laneways should be sized for the expected future number of cows.
The table below gives suggested widths of laneways for different herd sizes. These values should be used as a guide because it may not be possible to achieve these widths in all situations. Hilly areas can sometimes restrict laneway widths.
Table: Recommended laneway dimensions for milking herds.
120 - 250
250 - 350
350 - 450
Note: Laneway width is only the actual width cows walk on. It does not include table drains.
Note: Vehicle access requires a minimum width of 3.7 metres.
[See CowTime Guidelines Chapter 3, page 47]
Q: What is the ideal surface for laneways?
A: The foundation and surface layers of a laneway each require the use of materials that will withstand the threat posed by water and constant use.
In many regions, accessing suitable materials can be a problem less than ideal materials may require stabilising or strengthening.
Paying more for good quality materials may save money in the long run factor in costs of lameness and mastitis, extra maintenance or laneway replacement.
Materials - Foundation Layer
Topsoil and grass should be removed before beginning the foundation layer.
Topsoil is not suitable for use in the foundation layer. The material removed from the table drains may be used provided it is not topsoil.
Moist sub-surface soil is suitable.
If not required for dam construction, the material dug out to make effluent ponds is also suitable for laneway foundations.
Soft clay is unsuitable for use in foundations unless stabilised with other materials.
Hydrated lime, evenly spread and uniformly incorporated to a depth of 125mm, will allow a soft clay to become stable once compacted.
Cement can be used as a stabiliser in foundation layers usual recommendation 1-4%.
Investigate using enzymes (Paczyme) or ionic soil stabilisers (Terra Firma).
If the material available does not create a satisfactory foundation it is possible to us a "geotextile" an industrial fabric used in earthworks to cover the shaped base layer before adding the top layer. While porous and allowing the water to pass through, geotextiles hold soil and rock in place and will prevent the surface layer from being pushed into the foundation layer, particulary from wheeled traffic. The geotextile will distribute applied loads over a wide area.
Materials Surface layer
Topsoil and grass provide a soft cushioned surface for cows to walk on but they are unable to withstand the rigours of frequent use. When choosing materials keep in mind the dual purpose of the surface layer to provide a comfortable walking surface for cows and to protect the underlying foundation.
This surface layer is usually made from a mixture of materials often small stones, clay (15 to 30%) and sand.
The fine particles of clay fill the gaps between the larger particles, binding it together. It also gives the surface a long wearing and smooth finish.
Incorporating 0.3-1% cement into the clay capping mixture can help stabilise the surface and prolong its life.
Trialing small loads of proposed materials will show which are going to work and which are not.
Well rounded gravel less than 25 mm in diameter is preferable to large stones they can be kicked aside, leaving the surface susceptible to water penetration and damage.
Crushed limestone makes suitable material for surfacing check local lime for suitability. Generally spread as a 50-100 mm layer. Needs firm compaction.
Sand alone does not make an ideal surface it is abrasive on cows feet and washes away too readily.
[See CowTime Guidelines Chapter 3, pages 51, 52 + illustration]
Q: How do you prevent the buildup of muck under fence lines?
A: The cows feet tend to move any muck sideways to the edges of the lane. This causes a small bank to form inside the fence. This bank can act as a barrier, preventing water from entering the drains and encouraging surface scouring.
The ideal solution would be a fence that had posts on the paddock side of the drain to facilitate cleaning but with the wires on the lane side of the drain to prevent cows from walking in them.
[See CowTime Guidelines Chapter 3, page 55 + illustrations]
Q: What is the disadvantage of cows walking long distances to the dairy?
A: Locating the dairy in a position that is most central to the whole farm means cows are not walking excessive distances to the dairy. While dairy location is not something that can be changed immediately it is an important consideration during the planning of a new dairy.
Table : Energy requirements for cows walking one kilometre.
Cows walking on
Equivalent to energy required to produce
200 ml milk
1000 ml milk
Note: Slopes in between use a proportional amount of energy.
Source: Target 10, Natural Resources and Environment
[See CowTime Guidelines Chapter 3, page 47]
Q: How do I control water in laneways?
A: Drainage is extremely important. A well-drained laneway means:
A dry laneway is achieved by:
a well-crowned and compacted soil base
a firm impervious surface
minimal shading from trees
clearing and maintaining drainage points regularly
Table and spur drains:
Creating table drains at the sides of the laneway helps to take water away, maintaining laneway condition.
Recommended size for table drains is 300 mm deep and 1 metre wide.
Spur drains should be installed every 40 to 80 metres to empty the table drains on to paddocks.
The distance between spur drains needs to be less on steeper slopes.
Water drained from laneways is an environmental hazard and should be contained on the farm.
A watertable close to the surface will hinder drainage and may cause the laneway to become wet, reducing its structural integrity and increasing its chance of collapse. Adequate watertable depth is essential to good drainage - ensure the water table is a least 600 mm below the surface to aid the draining of water away from the laneway.
Deep drains and wet clay are hazards to vehicles and people.
[See CowTime Guidelines Chapter 3, page 54]
Q: Are woodchips a benefit in high flow areas?
A: In south-eastern South Australia there is a trend to cover the hard limestone lanes with wood chips. Cows have demonstrated a desire to walk on softer materials at a trial at Flaxley. There is no significant problem with wood chips wedging in the hooves.
[See CowTime Guidelines Chapter 3, page 52 + illustration]
Q: What is the recommended size of entry into the back of yard?
A: Entry into the yard is best through a full width gate as this does not create any restriction to cow movement onto the yard.
Rear access into the yard reduces cows milling around and assists with good cow-flow. If cows can fill the yard in the same order they come in from the paddock, they will flow better into the yard and dairy.
Access to the yard should be a minimum of 6 m wide and the full width of the lane. The type of gate used to close this gap is not critical. The key criteria are the strength of the gate and its ease of opening and closing.
[See CowTime Guidelines Chapter 3, pages 60, 61 + diagrams]
Q: How do I train heifers to enter the dairy for the first time?
A: There are almost as many ways to train heifers to enter the dairy for the first time as there are farmers. Methods vary because of differences in entry design and circumstance but there are several over riding principles that can be used to ensure that training heifers is a safe and less stressful time for all concerned.
to be well grown out to compete successfully with herd mates
time to become familiar with the new environment
positive experiences associated with the new environment
a consistent sequence of events leading up to entering the dairy for milking
a comfortable milking environment
To ensure the successful introduction of heifers into the herd, consider the following suggestions.
Let heifers get to know the dairy environment and routine prior to their first milking with the main herd.
Training gates can be used to introduce the heifers together (but separate to the main herd).
Heifers need about 3-7 introductions before they begin to feel comfortable with a new environment it takes about 2 weeks to establish a quiet, reliable response to milking.
[See CowTime Guidelines Chapter 4, page 65]
Q: What is ideal entry design for a dairy?
A: The interface between holding yard and inside the dairy should be designed to encourage cows to enter. There are several factors that need to be considered to create a good entrance design. These include:
A well-designed entrance to the dairy promotes voluntary loading of cows onto the platform.
[See CowTime Guidelines Chapter 4, pages 79 - 81]
Q: What are some important issues about using backing gates?
A: Backing gates can assist with cow-flow into the dairy. They need to be well designed, and used correctly.
Backing gates work by reducing yard size as the number of cows reduces this keeps cows close to the dairy entrance. Backing gates are not designed to physically push cows into the dairy. Cows should be able to move quickly and freely into the dairy of their own accord.
Audible alerts (such as a bell) can be used to warn cows the backing gate is advancing. Position audible alerts behind the cows at the rear of the yard it should be audible but not loud. Sirens or air horns are too loud and will frighten the cows.
Backing gates are not essential for good cow-flow. Many farmers have achieved good cow-flow into the dairy using less expensive options like sweep gates or tape.
Backing gates are less important on farms with good dairy entrance design and cow handling skills. Designs vary but the key attributes are similar
Backing gates greater than 8 m wide require expensive structural engineering.
The backing gate should only move at a speed of about 10-15 m per minute speeds in this range allow the cow to move ahead of the gate without being run over by it.
Yard washing equipment can be fitted to some backing gate designs. The yard is then washed as the backing gate is returned to its storage position.
[See CowTime Guidelines Chapter 4, pages 66 and 76 -78 + illustrations]
Q: Should I use an electrified backing gate?
A: Electrified backing gates are not recommended for several reasons.
These gates punish least dominant cows.
Electrified backing gates cause concern for human safety they need an isolator switch.
Electrified backing gates can upset other electrical equipment in the dairy.
Electrified backing gates have been banned in some European countries due to their severe impact on cow welfare.
If electrified backing gates are used it is essential to have an isolator switch so the gate can be disconnected from the electric fence system. Isolation will be necessary if maintenance is required or if an animal becomes entangled in the gate.
[See CowTime Guidelines Chapter 4, page 78]
Q: How much room does a cow need in a holding yard?
A: There are two aspects to consider when sizing a holding yard the average size of cows in the herd and herd size.
Small cows require 1.2 m2 per cow and large cows will require 1.5 m2 per cow.
Multiply average cow size by the maximum number of cows that need yarding at one time. This may be the entire herd or a sub-group depending on management techniques.
When running multiple groups, allow about 30% more space than is required by the largest group. This allows flexibility to bring in subsequent groups without blocking exit laneways.
Having cows jammed in a yard does not mean they will move through the dairy quicker it makes them stressed.
[See CowTime Guidelines Chapter 4, page 67]
Q: What can I do to help my cows on a hot day?
A: In some regions, it is necessary to provide relief from heat and sun to maintain cow comfort. Several cow cooling options have been trialed at Mutdapilly Research Station, Queensland and could be applied to dairy holding yards. All shade and sprinkler options tested (solid roof, shade cloth and sprinkler combinations) had net positive gains.
Sprinklers should be turned on before cows are brought in this cools the concrete prior to milking.
Alternating water and fans is far superior to continuous wetting for cooling it also helps keep udders dry to reduce the risk of mastitis.
Water sprinklers should be positioned above the cows so the water doesnt wet the cows udders.
[See CowTime Guidelines Chapter 4, pages 74 - 75]
Q: What are the best types of sprinklers/sprays?
A: A large droplet size should be used if using sprinklers to wet cows. The idea is to wet the cow so the evaporating water cools the cow directly.
Small drops and mists evaporate in the air this cools the air it but increases the humidity, making it more difficult for the cows sweating process. However, a fine mist curtain at the dairy entrance is a good fly deterrent.
Water spraying may be continuous or intermittent.
[See CowTime Guidelines Chapter 4, page 74]
Q: Where in the yard should entry gate be?
A: Rear access into the yard reduces cows milling around and assists with good cow-flow. If cows can fill the yard in the same order they come in from the paddock they will flow better into the yard and dairy.
Entry into the side of the yard may be necessary due to the position of the laneway, but good cow-flow can still be achieved if the entry is near the rear of the yard.
[See CowTime Guidelines Chapter 3, page 60]
Q: How wide should the track be at the yard gate?
A: Access to the yard should be a minimum of 6 m wide and the full width of the lane. The type of gate used to close this gap is not critical. The key criteria are the strength of the gate and its ease of opening and closing.
[See CowTime Guidelines Chapter 3, page 61]
Q: What slope should the cow yard be at?
A: The degree of slope in a holding yard can effect cow-flow and cow comfort in the yards. The slope of a yard also has an impact on cleaning and drainage.
Upwards slopes of 3% to 4% (1 in 30 to 1 in 25) towards the dairy have been found to encourage the cows to face the dairy and are adequate for cleaning.
Cows are often reluctant to go down slopes exceeding 5% (1 in 20).
Slopes greater than 4% (1 in 25) lead to increased wear at the yard-platform junction this means increased slips and falls as the concrete wears smooth
Excessive upwards slopes must not be used this causes weight to be transferred from the cows front to rear legs.
Steps are not recommended they have been associated with an increase in the incidence of lameness.
[See CowTime Guidelines Chapter 4, page 71 - 72]
Q: What sort of surface should the cow yard have?
A: The yard surface should provide confident footing for the cows in all conditions.
Texturing of concrete can be done by the addition of carborundum, stamping, or cutting.
Carborundum is applied to concrete and creates an extremely hard wearing surface it is not recommended for use on yards as it increases the wear on cows feet.
Stamping, trowelling or rolling patterns into green concrete needs to be done at the correct time.
Stamping or rolling patterns into wet concrete squeezes concrete out of the groove and can result in bumps in the surface between grooves.
Use experienced concrete contractors to achieve the best result.
Cutting grooves in cured concrete is more expensive than stamping but is more flexible in timing.
Both existing and new yards can have grooves cut into their surface.
Research suggests a hexagonal pattern provides the best traction but a diamond pattern is easier to construct while providing similar traction
Correctly sized diamond grooving in holding yard concrete has been shown to reduce slips and falls by cows. Groove sizes and formation are suggested below:
Removing roughness: Initial roughness needs to be removed from a yard before cows use it.
A heavy concrete block dragged across the yard several times followed by thorough washing should be sufficient.
Walking on the yard in bare feet is a good way to determine if the yard is too rough for cows feet.
[See CowTime Guidelines Chapter 4, pages 70 and 71]
Q: I have narrowed the entrance race? ie 800 x 2-4m to steady cow flow for electronic reading of eartags. Does this improve cowflow?
A: An entry race aids cow-flow. Cows in the race cannot be bullied by other cows so less dominant cows are more likely to enter of their own accord.
Entry races ensure cows walk onto the platform in single file.
Entry races also facilitate the reading of electronic identification tags
Entry races that are at least two cow lengths long help the cows settle down and relax before they get onto the platform. This promotes milk let-down and good cow-flow. They also stop the first cow backing out.
A kink in the entry race to herringbone sheds can reduce bunching and improve electronic identification reading. Cows are less likely to back out since they reverse into the race fence. Entry races feeding from the centre of the yard appear to resolve pecking order problems.
[See CowTime Guidelines Chapter 4, page 81 + illustration]
In the dairy
Q: Whats a good way to communicate my requirements to the assistant milker?
A: Train milking staff
Training ensures milkers know managements expectations and can demonstrate safe milking work routines.
Inexperience or poor training often contributes to accidents. Establish clear training and operating protocols and follow them.
Communicate with message points
Most milk harvesting systems and factory quality assurance systems have an easy recording system for the milking staff to use while they milk.
Consider where message points like a white board will be positioned. Milkers will need easy access to record treated cows and note other important information as the milking progresses.
[See CowTime Guidelines Chapter 5, page 87 and Chapter 9, page 206 + illustration]
Q: What is the best design for cow exit?
A: The design of exit races and feeding in the bail can both have an impact on how quickly cows leave the milking platform. Key issues to consider include:
The exit path should be as free from restrictions as possible.
Ideally, in herringbones, the first few cows in a new batch should be able to follow the milked ones as they leave.
These new cows can then be prepared for milking while the rest of the line is getting into position.
Time may not be saved in the overall milking process if clusters are attached before teats are plump.
All factors impacting on how quickly cows exit the milking platform should be considered.
Exits that are short, wide and have minimal turning are the best remove sharp corners if possible.
Exit lanes should be about 2500 mm wide. If there must be a turn there should be a clear 3000 mm passage for the cows.
If cows exit from an elevated platform, a ramp is preferable to steps.
Think about putting in skylights at the exit point to ensure light intensities are similar inside and out.
[See CowTime Guidelines Chapter 5, page 104 - 107]
Q: What is the best cow angle in the bale for the best flow?
A: The angle that cows stand on the milking platform determines how much width each milking position is allocated. Generally, cows are positioned at an angle of 80 to 90 degrees or stand at a 45 degree angle.
For cows standing at 80 to 90, allow a width of 550 to 660 mm per cow if stall gates are installed the space needed for the equipment can take the distance per cow up to 720 mm.
Cows standing at 80 to 90 are perhaps the safest to milk. Attaching clusters through the rear legs reduces the chance of being kicked.
Fewer clusters are kicked off at a milking position of 80 to 90, reducing the subsequent need for reattachment or adjustment.
With the cows standing closer together there is also less overall walking required to milk the cows. Dairies can be shorter but a bit wider.
Standing at 45, it is common to allow a width of 850 to 1000 mm per cow.
[See CowTime Guidelines Chapter 9, page 205 - 206 + diagram]
Q: How much noise is acceptable in the dairy?
A: Exposure to continuous or intermittent loud noise is stressful for those working in the dairy and unexpected sound like shouts can unsettle cows.
Too much noise damages workers hearing. Noisy dairies also make it harder to hear if something is going wrong.
Ensure the vacuum pump is well insulated to reduce noise levels at the milking platform.
Vacuum regulators are also a source of noise.
Where possible eliminate the banging that may be caused by metal clashing.
The recommended noise level for a working area is less than 80dB. Less than 60dB is a good target. If voices need to be raised to be heard then the noise level is probably too high.
[See CowTime Guidelines Chapter 5, page 90]
Q: How much teat spray per cow should I use?
A: Teat spraying is more widely used than teat dipping as it can be speedily implemented. However, it still takes time to do it properly.
An effective spraying technique involves:
Spraying continuously avoid spraying jets intermittently as coverage will not be complete.
Spray whilst moving wand in a circular pattern adjust the angle of the spray gun to ensure good coverage.
Check the efficiency of techniques in the following way:
Volume of spray used aim for 20 ml per cow per milking.
[See CowTime Guidelines Chapter 5, pages 101 - 102]
Q: Does the use of ACRs improve the effectiveness of miking?
A: Automatic cluster removers take the guess-work out of predicting the end point of milking and allow substantial increases in productivity per milker. Many milkers comment how this equipment de-stresses milking.
If this equipment is to be installed it should:
be applied to herds with good cow let-down/preparation for milking
do the job as well as a good milker
be mechanically reliable
reduce the stress of milkers
save labour or improve productivity of existing labour
maintain good udder health and milk quality
Automatic cluster removers will only begin to pay for themselves if they allow extra milking units to be installed, reduce the number of milkers or reduce serious over-milking.
[See CowTime Guidelines Chapter 5, page 97 - 98 and CowTime Quick Note 5.2: Automatic Cluster Removal]
Q: How much room should the cow have on the milking platform?
A: The space provided on the milking platform is critical for cow comfort and the dimensions should accommodate the largest cow size in the herd now and in the future. Better to provide more room than less and allow for adjustable breast rails where possible.
The platform should slope away from the pit by 2-3%. This way, water and effluent flows away from the rear of the cow.
Breast to rump rail space should be in the range of 13501700 mm. The best way to determine appropriate sizing is to measure a number of larger cows in the current herd.
Too much space from breast to rump rail allows cows too much movement this makes clusters harder to attach from the pit. Too little space will cramp cows.
Allowances should be made for changes to cow size in the future adjustable breast rails are ideal.
The rump rail should be above the eye level of the milker with splash guards draining to a gutter on the pit side of the rump rail.
On rotary platforms kick rails and rump rails are located at similar heights to those of herringbone dairies. Breast to breech rails distances are also similar.
Kick rails 600 mm above the cow platform may assist to protect milkers.
[See CowTime Guidelines Chapter 9, pages 204 - 205]
Q: What are the optimum litres per set of clusters of water?
A: Jetter cleaning - Jetters require 30 40 litres of water per set of cups per day and a recommended minimum flow rate of 3 litres per minute through each cluster.
Reverse flow cleaning systems they require 120 litres per set of cups per day, plus the volume of water to fill the milk system.
Wash drums each drum needs to hold at least 5 litres per set of clusters to give the required flow rate at the cluster.
Buckets this system requires 30 litres of water per set of cups per day.
[See CowTime Guidelines Chapter 6, page 119, and CowTime Quick Note 4.4 Machine Cleaning Systems]
Q: Is my yard suitable for a flood wash system?
A: Flood wash systems work best in single slope yards with no cross flow. If the yards are appropriate, a well designed system can mean opening a gate valve or pushing a button and walking away. In practice however, the potential saving in time can be lost if some form of manual cleaning is required before or after the flood wash waters is released.
There are a number of different ways to flood wash holding yards:
In suitable yards, flood wash systems are the ultimate in high volume, low pressure cleaning systems. A stored volume of water is released from the top of the yard and sweeps the yard clean in one hit.
[See CowTime Guidelines Chapter 6, page 127 - 129 + Illustrations]
Q: Is installing an air purge system useful for my dairy?
A: An air purge system is worth considering in larger herringbone dairies and rotary systems. It reduces the amount of milk left in the line before plant cleaning begins.
Q: What are the advantages of using an automatic plant washing system?
A: It is possible to automate the entire cleaning process once the clusters are attached to the jetters. These systems are worth considering as they free up labour to do more productive tasks.
These systems give a consistent clean after every milking.
The correct amount of chemical is automatically added each time.
Water circulates at the appropriate temperature for exactly the right time.
There is no need for humans to contact chemicals.
A daily check of chemical usage and water flow through each of the clusters ensures the system is working well.
[See CowTime Guidelines Chapter 6, page 120]
Q: How long should washing up take?
A: 10 minutes of labour time is possible with an automatic plant washing system. top