March 4 2022 08:00 AM

Whether playing music on the radio during milking or humming tunes to cows while training them, smooth melodies help keep our cows (and ourselves) calm.

My mom recently got a text from my cousin with an image of a bottle cap. It was a Snapple drink cap that had the fact, “Cows give more milk when they listen to music.” My cousin asked if this fact was true, and she was intrigued by the idea and our response. So, to my cousin, Becca, and any others interested, here are a few more thoughts on the topic.

While I’m not scientist, I can attest that music does seem to help cows relax. If you want more scientific reasoning, a quick Google search will lead you to a slew of credible sources and articles. On our farm, we have always had a radio playing in our milking parlor — both to help the cows relax, as well as ourselves. (As an added bonus, the noise helps keep the raccoons from eating out of our nearby sweet corn patch in the summer.)

While the genre and beat of the music may have an impact, I think any music generally calms cows and humans because of the repetitive, smooth melodies. Having constant noise in the background can also distract from any other loud noises or commotions that may occur — dropping a pail, a cow kicking, milkers squawking, machinery going by, and so forth

We are definitely not the first farm to have a radio playing for our cows. That’s because farmers know a relaxed and happy cow is a healthier and more productive cow. Strategies like playing music that help reduce cow (and human) stress are always on our minds.

In our robotic milking barn, we do not have a radio playing (although it has crossed my mind many times); however, you can still hear the faint melodies coming from our parlor radio in the distance. Our robotic milkers actually play the role of music in their own way because of the rhythmic sounds of the air compressor.

The calming and relaxing aspect of having music playing can also be an aid in training cows. When I halter trained fair calves growing up, I would sometimes talk or sing to them to help keep them relaxed and focused on something other than the task at hand. I won’t proclaim that I’m a great singer, but I can keep a beat and smooth rhythm for these gentle creatures that crave routine and repetition.

To this day, I still will talk or sing to some of our higher-strung cows when training them to go through our robotic milkers. My brother did call me a cow whisperer the other day while I desperately tried to relax a fresh heifer by humming to her. This fresh heifer is taking longer than usual to stay calm while being milked by the robotic milker. So, when number 1779 comes in, I kneel beside her head and talk, hum, or sing in slow, low tones to distract and relax her. She is still a work in progress, but I can tell she responds to that approach (or that’s at least what I’m telling myself).

Beyond the benefits of the radio and music for our cows, we also live for the radio on the farm. Every tractor, skid loader, and other piece of machinery is equipped with a radio, and most will hook up to our phones using Bluetooth. This makes long days of field work more relaxing and enjoyable for all involved. Whether we have the radio playing, are streaming music from an app, listing to a podcast, or enjoying an audiobook, having something in the background keeps us alert and helps pass the time when we are stuck hauling loads of silage, working up fields, collecting round bales, hauling manure, and much more.

To drive my point home, I’m even listening to music as I write this blog post. How’s that for full circle?

Molly Schmitt

The author dairy farms with her parents and brother near Hawkeye, Iowa. The family milks approximately 300 head of grade Holstein cows at Windsor Valley Dairy LLC — split half and half between a double-eight parallel milking parlor and four robotic milking units. In the spring of 2020, Molly decided to take a leap and fully embrace her love for the industry by returning full time to her family’s dairy.