The process depends on the type of milking system being used on the farm.
In a traditional milking parlour, cows are milked at least twice a day, usually 12 hours apart. Close to the usual milking time, the cows line up to enter the milk parlour. First the farmer inspects each cow, then he cleans the four teats on the udder before attaching the milking machine cluster. This helps to ensure no foreign material gets into the milk, and it stays high quality. The milking process starts and the milk is piped directly from the cow to the bulk tank where it is quickly chilled.
Automated milking systems (AMS) are also gaining popularity in the province: about 10 per cent of Alberta farmers have them. AMS are machines that allow the cows to enter and exit the milking stall throughout the day as they please. Each cow has an electronic neck tag that the AMS reads. The neck tag contains information that helps the AMS know if it is time to milk a specific cow again. If it is time for milking, the cow will enter the milk stall, the machine will automatically clean the teats, attach the cups and start milking. If it is not time for her to be milked she will be turned away. During milking, information is collected related to milk volume, time of milking and milk flow that the farmer can use in the management of his farm. This system is less dependent on manual labour and can increase the volume of milk produced, but it is initially a more expensive option. You can watch a video featuring an AMS system on Jeff’s farm.
It takes less than five minutes to milk a cow and cows quickly learn the routine of getting milked regularly. If an animal is receiving treatment for illness, she is milked, but the milk is discarded until her treatment is complete. Learn more about milk quality here. Once milking is complete, the cow exits the milking parlour and enjoys the rest of her day feeding, chewing her cud and lounging on comfy bedding until she is ready to be milked again. Cows need to be milked every single day, rain or shine.
The milk from each cow is pooled into a large refrigerated stainless steel tank, also called a bulk tank, which keeps the milk at 4 degrees until it is picked up by the milk hauler about every 48 hours.