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Milky Symphony

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The British Columbia Dairy Association put forward an initiative entitled “Music Makes More Milk” in 2012. It explains a noticed increase in milk yield when music is played during cows milking time, but what could be the relation between music and milk production?

For us, humans, we always hear music as a tool that helps relieve stress and makes us feel better in hard times. Music helps several people focus and relax, and the same thing can happen to cows while listening to music; they feel less stressed and more comfortable. Music does not only help in cow relaxation during milking time, but it can also distract cows’ attention from stressful surrounding environment.

Stress on cows can lead to metabolic changes, which appear obviously on their health, feeding behavior, and milk production. During milking, sources of stress affecting cows include bad handling, which makes the cow feel uncomfortable, especially in the presence of humans. Bad housing conditions also stress cows and may lead to different types of diseases, leading to increased stress.

Stress is a normal body response, which helps overcome hard and unfavorable conditions. It allows the nervous system to release certain hormones in the blood stream to overcome muscle tension, which is the body’s method of guarding itself against injury and pain. “Cortisol” is one of the main hormones released under stress, allowing the body to provide more energy to the muscles, which leaves the body with a small amount of energy that may be less than needed. Stress can also affect the immune system, which in turn leads to an increased risk of sickness.

Scientists measured the amount of cortisol in cows’ bodies during a stressful condition and while listening to music. They noticed an amazing decline in cortisol level in blood after listening to music and in milk as well. They also found that, when stress-free cows listen to music, they tend to secrete a hormone known as “oxytocin”, which plays an important role in the final stage of milk production.

The process of milk production requires several steps that start with the filtration of some milk constituents from the bloodstream to the cow’s udder. Other constituents can be formed in the udder itself from certain metabolites, which are also filtrated from the bloodstream. The mammary glands gradually become engorged with milk just as a sponge; milk remains in the cow’s udder until a message or stimuli is sent to the brain. These stimuli may be the sight of milking machine, the labor hand massaging the udder, or the music the cow used to hear.

The stimulus results in the secretion of two main hormones that share in milk production: “prolactin” hormone from the pituitary gland, and “oxytocin” from the hypothalamus in the brain. Oxytocin is responsible for milk letdown process, which is the final stage in milk production. Cows find it easier to produce oxytocin while listening to music as it makes them calmer and stress-free. Once the lifetime of oxytocin in the blood ends, the milk letdown stops and the milking process stops.

Researches proved also that the increase in milk production does not appear while listening to all types of music; the music beat is more important than the genre. No increase in milk amount was found while playing rap or techno music, as they are fast and loud, and are not considered a relaxing type, so cows do not prefer them. On the other side, soothing and classical music are slow and rhythmic; they showed the desired increase in milk amount for their known effect on body relaxation.

Experiments were carried out on different cows for many days to show the difference in production, with and without playing music, and also to determine the best playlist of music to be heard. It was surprising to find a 3% increase in each cow’s daily production, which means a great increase in the total farm’s income.

Several animals, including cows, are considered creatures of habit. They know the exact time of feeding every day, milking time, and music played every milking time, and they get used to it. Any change in the cow’s habit and normal lifestyle could have a bad effect on it and its milk productivity. If a farmer starts playing music while milking the cows, they should never stop doing it. You may see it overrated, or just a waste of time; however, to farmers, a stress-free dairy cow means wealth.

References

Veterinary Medicine Books

modernfarmer.com

mindblowing-facts.org


Top Image: singing cows. Credits: Imgflip.com


This article was first published in print in SCIplanet, Autumn 2018 issue.

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