Recently I made another one of those proper-dairy-farmer decisions and I changed my whole farming system so that I could supply a specialised GRASS FED milk. The company I milk for had approached me with the suggestion to make the change as my herd met the GRASS FED criteria and the way I farmed and fed my animals was also pretty close to what the GRASS FED system required. It meant my milk would receive an added bonus payment and, with the drastic drop in milk prices during last season, I was quite happy to jump through any hoops remaining to get the extra premium price.

The two major issues for me were the molasses the cows got when they walked onto the milking platform, and the feed of crushed barley they each had as they walked off the platform and out of the shed. I was not allowed to feed either on the GRASS FED system and my dilemma was finding an alternative treatment to help get them on and off the milking platform quickly and easily. I decided that shifting them off wouldn’t be so difficult as I could move them along from the pit, but an incentive for them to walk onto the platform by themselves was essential as having to force reluctant, or nervous cows, into a spot they didn’t want to go would be both unpleasant and time-consuming.

I tried kibbled maize but the girls were not all that keen on it and it was rather expensive. They liked chaff but it blew away if it was windy. Lucerne Chaffhage became the solution as it had a similar sweetness and smell to the molasses, it was damp and heavy enough to stay in the feed trough even when it was blowing a gale and it definitely fitted the GRASS FED requirement. A double handful at the far end of the milking row meant the first greedy cow to push her way in (usually Peppermint) would march quickly to the treat and the rest of the group would follow without me having to go into the yard to shove them along.

Problem solved, apart from Peppermint. The first time she sprinted in and found the maize instead of the molasses, she spent the rest of her milking time with her head under the feed trough searching in vain for something better. When I trialed the chaff she considered it was only appropriate for scooping up and spitting out across the concrete … it certainly wasn’t to be eaten. But the Chaffhage was acceptable so long as she got extra help to keep her from bullying the unfortunate cow who had followed her in.

Peppermint was also the biggest problem going out of the shed. On the first milking under the new system she, as usual, galloped off the platform, squeezed her fat frame through the race, and hurtled out into the exit yard where she came to a dead stop. “Hold it girls!” I heard her snort. “There’s no feed out here!” She hurtled herself back down the race, pushed the cows back onto the platform, wedged herself against the dairy shed wall, and glared at me with a look of horror … how could I forget to put the barley out.

“PEPPERMINT! Don’t be such a (French word),” was my response but she wasn’t going to shift until I had come up with the goods. I couldn’t get her to go backward and she wouldn’t go forwards either because the rest of the milked row was staring at her wondering what the fuss was about and I began to question the wisdom of changing to the GRASS FED system, bonus payments or not. However, with a bucket of Chaffhage as bait, she eventually followed me through the dairy door, past the vacuum pump, and out the exit door onto the tanker track where she promptly trundled off to tell the heifers in the tanker track paddock all about it.

A friend said, “Give it a few days and they will settle into the new routine,” and he was right. By the end of the week, they had all but forgotten what molasses was and were moving in and out of the shed smoothly again. But I was also better prepared and I followed you-know-who out of the shed for the next two days with a large stick in my hand – she got the message (and it was all in English).