‘The benefits of once a day milking explored’

Once a day (OAD) milking and its relevance to the Irish dairy industry is a topic that has huge relevance to the Irish dairy sector, and it should be examined in detail more.

This is according to Nuffield Ireland 2012 scholar Michael McCarthy, who was presenting his research at this  year’s autumn conference earlier this week.

OAD milking is where cows are milked once daily as against twice daily (TAD), which is the case on most farms throughout the world and in Ireland.

During the past 18 months, McCarthy has travelled to the UK, France, New Zealand and South America. In all these countries farmers are using OAD in various situations and at different times during the year.

Courtesy of his presentation, West Cork farmer McCarthy reports that the lessons learned in his research is that OAD has huge potential in Ireland pre and post milk quota.

He explained: “There are many varied reasons why OAD is practiced ranging from personal and family choice, farm size and fragmentation, land type, labour and where quotas are a limiting production. This research will allow farmers the opportunity to make a clear and informed opinion as to whether OAD milking is for them. The experiences of farmers in Ireland and New Zealand will be outlined and their financial accounts will give those thinking of changing to OAD milking a true picture of what can be achieved.

“Every farmer can use OAD strategically at different stages during the year, ie difficult weather conditions, labour shortage and quota limitation. This research also highlight the advantages and disadvantages of this practice.”

McCarthy also stressed the whole area of OAD milking needs to be looked at in a positive way. “All the vested interest in Irish dairying has a lot to gain by promoting it and helping farmers make informed decisions. New Zealand has proved that it has a part to play in a post quota era and we should follow their example by giving as much support and information to those interested in OAD.”

OAD milking has many varied uses, he said, either on a full-time or part-time basis.

“Farmers are using in the shoulders of the year to help with labour shortage and cow condition, here is an area of growth which has only a very small negating effect on total milk production. With quotas still a problem for the next two milk production years, it helps by enabling them to stay within their quota and also keeping high EBI young stock in the country.”

To many it may seem as a step backwards to change from TAD to OAD milking but on the ground the result are proving different on farms that are suited to it, he said.

McCarthy explained further: ” Most farms that have been practising it for four to five years have found their kgs of milk solids per cow are on par with what they were doing on TAD milking. There are beef and suckler farms which would fit perfectly into OAD milking. The economic research would suggest that OAD milking is more profitable so this is an area of growth which needs to be prioritised.

He continued: “Some farmers I spoke to felt it was the ‘last step before not milking’; this couldn’t be further from the truth. The information is there and those that have embraced it are doing it very successfully. We now need to get the information into the public domain to promote it as a viable option.”

Among the recommendations of McCarthy’s research include the opportunity of using QAD as ideal way of enable farmers to take on a second block without causing too much impact on the existing system.

“It offers them the opportunity to use ‘the new labour source’. These are the people who can do the morning milking before they go to work or as in some cases take the children to school. It also offers farmers the opportunity to rent farms, which are not suitable for TAD milking to those who are looking to expand.”
He also acknowledged that QAD may not be for everyone. “Like all systems it is not suitable for every farmer and those farms out there which are compact and dry it would be suitable for them to convert to OAD milking. Like all systems, there are benefits and losses, therefore serious consideration and investigation are required before deciding whether it is suitable for you.”

He is also calling on the AI companies and the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation  to investigate the genomic requirements of cows suited to OAD milking.

“At present there isn’t an economic gain by putting research into this area, with a low percentage of take up, but the argument is there that it is a growing market with potential post 2015,” he concluded.