By Brent Boyce, LIC FarmWise consultant
The last four seasons have seen a significant uptake in farmers making changes to the frequency with which they’re milking their cows.
Traditionally, most herds have been milked twice a day (2AD), although once-a-day (OAD) milking, as an all-season regime, has seen continued uptake during the past few decades.
In November 2001, the first foray into an alternative regime was undertaken in Murchison, with a milking regime of 14-, 16-, and 18-hourly splits. This was essentially three milkings over two days (3in2).
Consequently, as more farmers realised that (when transferring from 2AD to 3in2), production after 4-5 months’ lactation wouldn’t fall, the popularity of 3in2 quickly grew.
With this, some farmers realised that hours could change-up even more, to 12-18-18, or to 10-19-19 splits, for example.
The biggest limitation of 3in2 is that weekends vary: There is a single milking one Saturday, but the next Saturday there is a double milking. This is not conducive to modern lifestyles, with rosters, family life, and staff planning now high on the priority list.
In 2019, I had a light bulb moment after re-writing my findings on initiating and implementing 3in2 milking since 2002.
10 in 7 alternative milking regimes
With input from Steve Davis, LIC senior scientist, I visualised and implemented 10in7 (and similar regimes) on several of local Tasman farms. Following this, I published my thinking and findings on these new regimes, and effectively introduced variable milking frequency to the dairy farming public, with the new regimes adopted both domestically and internationally.
10in7 is basically 3 days a week at 2AD; and 4 days a week at OAD (10 milkings/week)
10in7 has meant farmers can now become weekend centric; sleep-ins are possible four days a week, including both days in the weekend. Other regimes, such as 9in7 and 11in7 have also become popular, as they are similarly weekend centric.
Production can be maintained, and at times increased, by undertaking alternative milking frequencies, especially after 4-5 months’ lactation.
Fewer milkings also mean use of resources and associated costs are also reduced, improving farm profitability.
It is now becoming widespread for farmers to do 10in7 or 9in7 all season.
Some farmers are however doing a mix of several regimes; for example, 2AD at the start of the season, 10in7 at Christmas time, and finishing up with OAD from April.
Considerations and benefits of alternative milking
Undertaking a mix of regimes can mean no loss in production at all, while significant time and cost savings occur. The sustainability of the business is enhanced; and the reduced hours (and well managed weekends) makes a career in dairying considerably more attractive for staff.
The uptake of these new regimes has considerable impact on how farmers are milking their cows.
Changes to milking regimes require changes to other farm management areas, which also need to align with service providers.
For herd testing, it’s important the farm can adjust to help fit herd testing dates. Often testing laboratories are fully scheduled, and cannot change dates easily. For a 10in7 regime, with a OAD milking on the Thursday at 10am, it would be best to do a 2AD milking that day too (same as Wednesday and Friday).
The benefits are two-fold: Better data, and avoiding the hassle of trying to change the herd test date.
The artificial breeding (AB) period throws up similar challenges. While farmers and their consultants try hard to manage mating according to the 10in7 regime (hours and timing), the different schedules cause considerable issues for AB Technicians.
Last season, FarmWise consultants and their clients found that by keeping all the morning milkings at the same time (say, at 5am), and simply adding in the three afternoon milkings
(Mon/Wed/Fri, at say, 3pm), production was maintained without significant losses.
At the end of the AB period, it was simply a case of reverting to the later morning milkings of 10in7 (at say, 10am on Tue/Thu/Sat/Sun).
As with all milking regimes in a pasture-based farming system, the best animal for alternative milking regimes is a high quality, high breeding worth (BW) animal.
Lincoln University Dairy Farm (LUDF) in Canterbury is currently undertaking its first entire season of 10in7. During the season significant information is being collected, and the farm will publish outcomes in the coming months and years.
There are hundreds of farmers who are operating under alternative milking regimes, and most do it very well. The case studies below are two examples of farmers that have achieved good results in the last 3-4 seasons. Of note are improved production, mating results, management and efficiency – achieved with considerably less work.