Operating TAD and OAD milking on separate holdings in Co. Roscommon/Galway

Farming in Tulsk, Co. Roscommon, the Payne family decided to convert from beef and sheep farming to dairying in 2011.

Ed Payne and his wife Jennifer, alongside Ed’s parents – James and Dawn – combined with two employees, Aidan and Paul, run two dairy operations – one on each side of the Galway/Roscommon border.

When the switch was made to dairying in 2011, the Paynes began milking twice-a-day (TAD) and converted a 63ha out farm to a dairy holding and have been milking TAD there ever since.

Two years ago, a second unit was developed and the first clusters were put on this farm in February 2018. However, this holding is quite different to the other farm; once-a-day (OAD) milking is practiced here. The two farms now operate under the name Hilltop Dairies.

Last year, the break-up across the two herds was two thirds TAD and one third OAD. Despite this, the plan for 2019 is to calve approximately 520 cows with a split of 60% TAD and 40% OAD.

Ed and his father, James, picture on the TAD farm in 2017

Why OAD milking practiced?

Commenting on the decision to go OAD milking on the farm, Ed said: “Firstly, it was a whole business decision.

“Aidan does most of the management on the TAD farm, so I’m not giving myself any praise when I say that farm is very well managed; it is very much the backbone to the business.

“We asked ourselves how we were going to encompass this asset into the whole business and drive the business in the direction we wanted; not what was best for that one particular part of the business.

“Alongside that, between my own house, my parents house and our two employees homes, we cater for four households. So, we have to be aware of everybody’s needs.”

The Roscommon farmer also outlined that another reason for operating the OAD system was to reduce stress.

“This was more to do with an ownership level – myself, my wife, my mother and my father. I wanted less stress in this arrangement. This particular farm is where my parents live and my father is still very much involved in the business.”

Touching on the flexibility associated with OAD, he said: “I wanted flexibility within the business so that there was some free time and also some flexibility to keep our nose up and see upcoming opportunities.

“I didn’t want to get to the situation where people were saying they didn’t want anymore. I want to be able to take an opportunity if such arose,” he added.

‘If you ask why, you must ask why not’

Before implementing the system, the Payne family travelled to many OAD farms and were impressed with the level of performance achieved on these operations.

“We wanted to step up to the challenge and we wanted to see if we could do that, and if we could, we knew that it would fit into this whole business decision that we had.

“In the 12 months we have been in this game – across the two herds – we milked 45% heifers; this was due to the rapid growth with developing the second unit.

“However, none of those heifers milked OAD; the OAD unit was second-lactation cows and older. That – in turn – made the TAD unit 70% heifers. All late calvers – from March 17 onwards – were milked OAD.

“After the 11 weeks of breeding, the two herds scanned exactly the same with a 9.5% empty rate. Somatic Cell Count (SCC) up until housing was the same – if not lower – on OAD than TAD.”

Continuing, Ed said: “At most, 10% of the herd was moved to the TAD herd. The main reason for that being cases of mastitis and udders that did not suit.

“Our business does have flexibility that we can shift cows from one herd to the other. It’s not something we are hoping to do long term, but it is an option we have.”

The future

Touching on the future, the Co. Roscommon farmer said: “We are going to continue not milking any heifers on the OAD farm. But, we want to find a core group of OAD cows.

“We plan to do this through management and milk recording and we hope to find the cows that are most suited to OAD milking.”

The Payne family also plan to improve grassland management on the OAD farm.

“I will be the first to admit that the grassland management on the OAD farm was close to shocking last year; so, it’s a matter of improving that,” he added.

40% of the farm has been reseeded to date and this is something which Ed hopes to build on, while also reducing the number of heifers milked on the farm, leading to a more mature herd.