Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Monday 15 October 2018

Why if you’re milking cows after 6pm, you’re doing something wrong

The Ballyhaise Agricultural College Open Day in Co Cavan. Pic Steve Humphreys.
The Ballyhaise Agricultural College Open Day in Co Cavan. Pic Steve Humphreys.
Margaret Donnelly

Margaret Donnelly

As Ireland’s national dairy herd increases and farmers expand their herds, the need for efficient workflow can result in a big impact on the amount of time spent working.

The national dairy herd has grown from 1.1m cows in 2010 to 1.4m cows in 2017. During that same period, average herd size has increased from 58 to 75 cows, with half of all cows now milked in herds of in excess of 100 cows.

However, these extra cows have posed a significant workload challenge and led to a renewed focus on labour efficiency and the sustainability of the workload farmers are undertaking.

Research from Teagasc shows that work practices need to be adapted so that extra cows can be managed without taking more time. Making changes to how work is done on the farm can save time without any reduction in farm performance, and often with very little cost, it says.

Important factors to reduce workload include having suitable high EBI cows that do not require individual attention, an appropriate calving date and stocking rate for the farm that minimises the need for supplementary feed, good grazing infrastructure that facilitates easy movement of animals to and from grazing and adequate well organised farmyard  infrastructure.

Visitors to the Teagasec Ballyhaise open day this week, were told that highly efficient farms finish evening milking by 6pm, feed calves once a day from three weeks old and had a good milking parlour setup.

Working too hard can lead to health and safety risks on the farm - for everyone on the farm - and ensuring farming involves a sustainable workload is essential for a number of reasons, Teagasc research shows.

On some farms, it finds, that nearly 50pc of the total hours worked on the farm occur during February, March and April.

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Therefore, the spring workload can be planned well in advance to ensure that adequate facilities, equipment and help is available to cope with the demand.

It also says that when it comes to cows, a suitable cow type that doesn’t require individual attention i.e. high EBI genetics, while an appropriate calving date and stocking rate for the farm that minimises the need for supplementary feed and good grazing infrastructure that facilitates easy movement of animals to and from grazing by a single operator.

On the farm, adequate well organised farmyard infrastructure that facilitates the easy movement of stock, particularly at calving.

But making changes to how work is done on the farm can save large amounts of time without any reduction in farm performance, and often with very little cost.

Research has shown that highly efficient farms have a set evening milking time and are on average finished evening milking by 6pm. Having a set finishing time in the evening is essential to being labour efficient as it provides clarity around the length of the working day and forces better time management.

Teagasc also says that the most efficient farmers start evening milking by 4pm and research shows no effect of 18/6 hour compared with a 12/12 hour milking interval in herd averaging <6,000kg/cow. An 18/6 hour milking interval should be practiced on all farms averaging <6,000kg/cow.

Once-a-day milking can be used as a management tool to reduce labour demand as can reducing feeding of calves to once a day, from three weeks old. However, if feeding milk once a day, calves still need to be checked thoroughly twice a day and fed concentrate at an alternative time to milk feeding.

Milking Parlour

Facilities have a major influence on labour efficiency, it says and farms with facilities modernised in line with expansion were more profitable than farms that expanded without modernising facilities.

Milking is the main task on a dairy farm and typically consumes over 30pc of total labour input.

Milking time should be less than two hours as it is reported that after two hours, the efficiency of the operator irrespective of training and experience can decrease resulting in interruptions and errors.


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