Why many farmers are choosing once-a-day milking for the month of February
Milking freshly calved cows once a day (OAD) in the month of February is a concept that is becoming increasingly popular each year as herd size increase. But will the reduced labour input compensate for the reduced milk cheque?
In 2010 the average herd size in Ireland was 53 cows.
In 2016 that figure had increased to 85 cows, which means that on average every farmer in Ireland is calving down 32 more cows now than they were six years ago and they also have 32 extra calves to feed.
All of this combined has led to a significant increase in spring workload on most Irish dairy farms.
Coupled with this, the fertility of the national herd has being increasing steadily over the past 10 years or more resulting in a higher proportion of the herd calving down in the month of February.
So how can we cope with this extra workload?
There are four possible answers to this question:
- Work harder and faster;
- Improve facilities for calving cows and feeding calves;
- Employ extra labour;
- Reduce the workload.
Option 1 will lead to mental and physical fatigue and increase the likelihood of farm accidents and should be avoided at all costs.
Option 2 is a good idea but it is unlikely you are going to get a new calf house built by next week so it is possibly an option for spring 2018.
Option 3 is a popular option assuming the labour can be sourced.
Option 4 is the option that many farmers are choosing, and the most obvious choice here is milking once a day for the month of February.
John Leahy from Athea in west Limerick has being milking his 100 cow herd once a day in the spring for the past five years.
Last spring, 70 of John's cows calved in the month of February. John milks the cows first thing in the morning and then spends the rest of the day focusing on calving cows and giving calves the best possible start they can get.
Any cow that calves that day is milked that evening, but this is usually only two or three cows. One interesting point John makes is that he finds it easier to train heifers on OAD as he claims the udder is full with milk so the heifers actually want to be milked. Another point he makes is that he has seen no increase in SCC.
He attributes this to the fact that the teat canal is only being opened once daily instead of twice. John is farming on heavy soils, so cows usually will not see grass until the first week of March. It is at this stage that the cows will revert back to twice a day milking. The other benefit John noticed is that he feeds much less meal in February, with cows only receiving 2kgs of meal in the parlour.
When I asked John if he feels there is carry-on effect to milking OAD in February, his response was: "They are in such good body condition after the few weeks on OAD that they absolutely fly afterwards when put back on twice a day".
There have been many trials conducted across the world to assess the long term impact of OAD milking in early lactation.
There will be a reduction in milk solids output while on OAD of approximately 10pc, but will cows get back to normal yields immediately after returning to twice a day milking?
In general, all the research studies tend to agree that if OAD is carried out for three weeks only, then the carryover effect ranges from 0-7pc.
However, if the OAD is extended to six weeks, then the carryover effect tends to be in the region of 10 to 14pc.
The farmers on the ground who are practising OAD milking tend to concur with this sentiment, with most believing that there is little or no loss in milk production for the remainder of the milking season.
OAD milking in February is a very useful labour saving tool that is being used to great effect by many farmers whereby the benefits far outweigh the losses.However, the balance can be tipped in the other direction should the practice be continued for too long into the milking season.
Joe Kelleher is a Teagasc advisor based in Newcastle West, Co Limerick
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