Behavioural and cardiac responses of multiparous dairy cows (n=24) during milking in a 2×4 stall herringbone milking system were evaluated in this study. Heart rate (HR), parasympathetic tone index (high frequency component, HF) of heart rate variability and sympathovagal balance indicator LF/HF ratio (the ratio of the low frequency (LF) and the HF component) were analysed. Measurement periods were established as follows: (1) standing calm (baseline), (2) udder preparation, (3) milking, (4) waiting after milking in the milking stall and (5) in the night (2 h after milking). Step behaviour was recorded and calculated per minute for the three phases of the milking process (udder preparation, milking and waiting after milking). HR was higher during udder preparation and milking compared with baseline (P=0.03, 0.027, respectively). HF was significantly lower than baseline levels during waiting in the milking stall after milking (P=0.009), however, during udder preparation, milking and 2 h after milking did not differ from baseline (P>0.05, in either case). LF/HF during the three phases of the milking process differed neither from baseline levels nor from each other. Steps occurred more often during waiting after milking than during udder preparation (P=0.042) or during milking (23; P=0.017). Our results suggest that the milking procedure itself was not stressful for these animals. After milking (following the removal of the last teat cup and before leaving the milking stall), both decreased parasympathetic tone (lower HF) and increased stepping rate indicated a sensitive period for animals during this phase.