Music has played an important part in all of the university dairy barns I have had the privilege to enter. In fact, on any given morning, the soothing sounds of country music can be heard emanating from the milking parlor at Miner Institute. Some may say that the country music is for the cows as much as it is for the milker to enjoy, but can music, or the environment, in the milking parlor alter lactational performance?
Though my musical preferences may not lean towards country, it seems that cows can appreciate the slow tempo that often accompanies country music. Two psychologists from Oxford University showed that playing music with a slow tempo increases milk yield by 3% when compared to cows exposed to fast tempo music. This study suggests playing Beethoven or Simon and Garfunkel in the parlor as the slow tempo of these songs doesn't stimulate adrenaline secretion that can interfere with milk letdown as faster tempo music does. Japanese research found that playing music prior to and during milking increased the number of cows entering automatic milking systems by 23%. This data suggests that music alters the willingness of cows to approach and enter an automatic milking system. Anecdotal reports from farmers can point your musical tastes in the direction of classical music due to its calming effects and lack of vocals as well as the aforementioned country music.
Though not as pleasant as the soothing tunes of George Strait or Alison Krauss, playing calf vocalizations during milking has been shown to increase milk yield by 1 to 2%. However, this increase in milk yield was not associated with an immediate increase in milk letdown; the increases in milk yield were observed one to two days after exposure. The reason for this may be that vocal communication between calf and dam plays a role in establishing and mediating the physical bond between the two. Since vocalizations by calves typically demonstrate their need for a resource such as nutrition, it may serve as a reason for the observed increases in milk yield. This is bolstered by the fact that dams exposed to vocalization recordings of calves of a similar age to their own calves had a greater increase in milk yield. Though the mechanism for the effect of calf vocalization on milk yield isn't yet fully understood, it serves as a means to increase milk yield while also possibly bolstering well-being.
Regardless of what music you or your milkers choose to play in the parlor, creating a low stress environment for the cows is critical. The milking process starts when cows enter the parlor, not just when the milking units are attached. Due to this, ensuring that cows are brought to the holding area in a calm and gentle manner as well as minimizing the time spent standing in the parlor are important precursors to proper milking procedure. Shouting while bringing cows to the parlor may result in stress that stimulates the release of adrenaline into the blood stream. Release of adrenaline can interfere with the release of oxytocin, the main hormone that signals milk letdown, resulting in slower milk letdown and possibly reduced milk yields. Listening to calm music can also reduce the stress level of the person in the parlor while also improving their mood. So the next time you are in the parlor try some Simon and Garfunkel, or maybe even country music!