Reducing stress on cows and staff, improving herd health and welfare as well as cost savings are all possible from milking once a day, as Sarah Trickett finds out
With labour shortage an increasing problem in the UK, looking to once-a-day milking could be the solution. For West Yorkshire dairy farmer Simon Kellett, it was the sudden loss of labour, after his father’s death, which forced him to look for an alternative solution.
“Losing a full-time member of staff in the middle of calving our spring-calving herd meant the workload increased significantly. And with just a part-time member of staff, something needed to be done to alleviate the stress,” he says.
After seeing cows being milked every 16 hours on dairy farms in New Zealand, Mr Kellett decided to try it as a method of reducing stress without compromising cow yield.
In April 2008 the 170 Jersey cows at Farnley Hall Farm, Leeds, were changed to milking every 16 hours, at 6am, 10pm and 2pm, which allowed the herd to be managed more easily.
“Because we are on a milk constituent contract with Longley Farm, a drop in yield wasn’t a concern. Milk yield was maintained at 4500 litres a cow, with protein also remaining at 3.9%, but fat percentage increased from 5.7% to 6%.”
Although milking was extended by about 15 minutes, it was still easy enough for Mr Kellett to manage with a part-time worker. “Milking every 16 hours wasn’t a big change for the cows, but it gave me the confidence to make the step and change to milking once a day.”
It was the timings of milking every 16 hours that led Mr Kellett to consider milking once a day. “Although 2pm is a good time to milk cows, 10pm and 6am are unsociable hours and when you’re doing it on your own it takes its toll on your body clock.”
But changing milking routine wasn’t a decision to be rushed. “Before making the transition I visited three farms in the UK milking once a day. I then costed the change and this was when I realised money could be made from milking once a day.”
Although litres will be lost, with Mr Kellett intending to drop milk yield from 4500 litres a cow to 3000 litres, the savings made elsewhere are more than paying for it.
Switching to once-a-day milking has enabled Simon Kellett to cut costs, but improve profitability of his 170-cow Jersey herd and improved cow condition and health.
“With 0.5t a cow less cake being fed each year, this is a £17,000 saving over the whole herd. We are also saving about £15,000 on labour, £2500 on electricity and halving all costs on products used in the parlour, including disinfectants, water and teat dips.”
In the long term it’s expected cows will consume less forage due to lower milk production, which will also provide an extra saving. Having more time and less pressure on grazing means Mr Kellett is hoping to increase the stocking rate by 10%. He also expects fat and protein levels will also rise by 10%.
“Evidence from other farms milking once daily show milk constituents increase by about 10%. As we are on a solids base contract, we would be entitled to bonuses that would equal more than a 10% rise in return,” he says.
In line with other farms milking once daily, Mr Kellett is hoping cow longevity will improve, aiming to get at least six lactations from every cow, enabling him to sell surplus stock.
“Putting NZ Friesian semen over a large percentage of the herd will allow me to sell the stock as crossbreds and since there is a demand for NZ crossbred stock, there should be profit to be made here, too.”
Milking less often has also seen improvements in herd health. “I have never seen cows in such good condition from calving to conception. Because they are only walking once to the milking parlour and are not standing about as long, lameness is nearly non-existent. Cows in better condition from calving to conception should also improve fertility. Mastitis cases are also lower, because the sphincter is opening less and also as a result of using Orbaseal.”
But Mr Kellett is expecting that somatic cell counts could rise. “SCC could increase because of less flushing, so I am considering joining NMR to keep a check on levels. However, it is not problem at the moment, with counts at about 200.”
With less time spent milking, Mr Kellett is now doing most jobs on the farm, without the need for contractors. And, for the first time in his farming life, he also has had time for hobbies. “Instead of working continuously, I now have time to spend with my family and for other activities,” he says.