22 November 1996


Anyone who is milking their herd three times a day needs to have a better reason than boosting milk yield.

Peter Grimshaw reports

LEASED quota prices of at least 16p/litre are the kiss of death to any direct benefits that might be expected from three-times-a- day milking, according to ADAS calculations.

If there are incidental benefits, these may be achievable by other, less costly and complicated means.

"You do not have to milk three times to improve management," says south-west ADAS dairy business consultant Ian Powell. "Many of the benefits of three-times milking are a result of the better management that cows receive in such herds."

Certain herds may milk three times daily in pursuit of less tangible benefits than the direct commercial effects of increased yield.

Among those may be pedigree breeders who rely on National Milk Records to promote the quality of their stock. They can justify extra expense in terms of enhanced reputation.

But although there is little doubt that the third milking enhances yields, the benefit may not always be as much as is claimed, nor in all circumstances. Contrary to most assumptions, an ADAS survey of trials data suggests that yield improvements are better with lower yielding cows than with higher yielding cows (table 1).

Two years of high prices for leased quota have, however, wiped out the potential value of any increased yield. "Quota prices at recent levels have called into question many of the things that we used to do to marginally increase production," says Mr Powell.

For most normal herds, the economic benefit of a third milking is currently likely to be about 10p/litre, according to ADAS figures (table 2). But that is a long way behind the value of leased quota. Three-times milking almost always requires shift working of some kind.

In some cases a stockman will gladly accept normal pay for continuous night work. More usually, though, the night shift requires a higher pay rate a milking than for more conventional routines. Even when labour is discounted, as some family businesses do, the break-even price for leased quota is less than present traded values.

The effect of three-times milking will be to depress potential profit by the difference between the net value of the extra milk produced and the contemporary value of leased quota. If you own all your quota, it would be better to lease it out than to milk three times to achieve it.

"Whichever way we look at it, we cannot see that it is on, at the moment," reckons Mr Powell. "Yet there are still numerous herds indulging in recreational milking."

Feed is the other significant additional cost. Annual average milk cheque results for 1995-96 illustrate this (table 3).

But while labour and feed may be the largest contributors to the cost increases arising from three-times milking, there are several others (table 4). Added together, they amount to a further £11 a cow a year. &#42

ADAS consultant Ian Powell: "There are still numerous herds indulging in recreational milking."

Wear and tear on equipment is easily underestimated. Such things as teat cup liners will be used for almost 50% longer each day.

Table 1: Effects of three times milking on additional yield a cow

Yield before 3x milking (litres a cow)7,0008,0009,00010,000

Yield increase from 3x milking (%)10987

Additional yield (litres a cow)700720720700

Table 2: Marginal costs and break-even quota leasing values (same yield parameters as table 1)

Yield before 3x milking (litres a cow)7,0008,0009,000 10,000

Marginal feed rate (kg/litre)

Marginal MOAF/litre (p/litre)16.816.215.614.9

Third milking cost, inc labour (p/litre)

Break-even leasing price, inc labour10.910.59.99.0

Third milking cost, excl labour (p/litre)1.00.970.930.9

Break-even leasing price, excl labour15.815.214.714.0

Table 3: Feed costs and milking frequency, annual average Milk Cheque results 1995-96

(Part year) (All year)

Number of milkings a day233

Average yield a cow611969018262

Average concentrate used a cow168320582923

Average concentrate used (kg/litre)

Table 4: Other extra costs of three-times-a-day milking


Vacuum pump 12kWh @ 7.5p0.9328.50

Water heating 10kWh @ 7.5p0.07527.38

Milk cooling 290 litres

Chemicals 190g @ £30/25kg0.22582.13

Teat disinfectant 10ml a cow

Water 1250 litres @ 75p/cu m0.94343.10

NMR extra recording cost0.60219

Total cost/100 cows2.971084.05

Total cost a cow0.029710.84


&#8226 Do not consider if only to boost yields.

&#8226 Economical benefit of 10p/litre way behind value leased quota.

&#8226 Extra costs £11 a cow a year.