Dairy cow milking order impacts feed intake

The dairy industry is constantly evolving, with producers employing various strategies to optimize milk production and animal welfare. One such factor that has gained attention is the milking order of dairy cows. While traditionally cows were milked in a set order, recent studies have investigated how alternating or randomizing the milking order can affect various aspects, including feed intake. In this article, we will delve into the intricate relationship between milking order and feed intake in dairy cows.

Milking Order and Social Hierarchy

Understanding the social hierarchy within a herd is crucial as it directly relates to the milking order. Dominant cows tend to be milked first, followed by subordinate cows. The stress experienced during milking can impact feed intake. Dominant cows may experience less stress and consequently consume more feed, while subordinate cows may exhibit reduced feed intake due to the stress associated with being milked last.

Effects of Milking Order on Feed Intake

Dominant cows, being milked first, have the advantage of accessing fresh feed immediately after milking. This timely access can result in increased feed intake. Additionally, dominant cows may experience lower stress levels during milking, leading to better feed consumption. Higher feed intake can contribute to enhanced milk production and overall cow health.

Subordinate cows milked last may face higher stress levels during the milking process. This stress can trigger a temporary reduction in feed intake, negatively affecting their overall nutritional status. Subordinate cows might also experience delayed access to fresh feed, leading to potential decreases in feed consumption after milking.

Alternating Milking Order

To avoid potential feed intake discrepancies caused by social hierarchy, some dairy farmers have implemented alternating milking orders. By switching the order periodically, cows have an equal chance of being milked first or last. This approach aims to mitigate the stress experienced by subordinate cows and equalize their access to fresh feed, potentially improving their overall feed intake and productivity.

Randomized Milking Order

Taking the alternating milking order concept a step further, dairy farmers have explored the benefits of randomized milking order. Randomization eliminates any bias associated with a predetermined order and provides a fair chance for every cow to be milked first or last. By minimizing stress during milking, this approach can lead to balanced feed intake among cows, promoting optimal productivity across the entire herd.


Milking order plays a significant role in determining feed intake among dairy cows. Dominant cows generally exhibit higher feed consumption, benefiting from immediate access to fresh feed. On the other hand, subordinate cows may experience reduced feed intake due to stress and delayed access to feed. Alternating or randomizing milking orders can help alleviate these issues, ensuring equal opportunities for all cows and potentially improving overall productivity in dairy herds. Further research in this area is necessary to develop robust strategies that maximize milk production while optimizing cow welfare.

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