Why do some farmers make the switch to once-a-day milking?

A growing number of farmers are giving serious consideration to once-a-day (OAD) milking; that was the general consensus at today’s Teagasc once-a-day milking conference in Co. Tipperary.

Following on from the success of last year’s event, another packed house in the Horse and Jockey Hotel was witnessed.

Farmers – a mixture of established dairy farmers and potential converts from beef farming – attended the event to hear about the ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ of OAD milking.

Many travelled to find out if OAD milking could be a potential solution to ease some of the pressures associated with modern-day, spring-calving, dairy systems.

In the coming weeks, dairy farmers will enter into a peak-pressure period – which will only intensify with a move towards a 90% six-week calving rate.

The benefits and potential downfalls of OAD milking were discussed at length. Brian Hilliard, the organiser of today’s event, has undertaken extensive work in this area over the years.

Why consider OAD milking?

While there was a lot of interest in the conference, only 70 farmers in Ireland currently operate a OAD milking system.

During Brian’s presentation, he said: “We had more and more queries last year because of the labour issues on farms; some farmers can’t get good labour. This was especially evident last year, given the difficult [conditions].

“Lifestyle is another huge factor when it comes to OAD milking. Some people are tired of being tied down milking cows twice-a-day (TAD), seven days a week, but OAD really changes that. It also might make farming more attractive to their sons or daughters.”

Brian also touched on walking distance from the parlour as a reason why farmers are making the switch, stating “it’s a lot easier moving cows long or hilly distances when milking OAD and there is less lameness”.

“Some people have switched so they can make better use of an outlet farm; some farmers are establishing a second unit and milking OAD on this block,” he explained.

Other reasons Brian highlighted included: an off-farm job; drystock or beef farmers converting to dairy farming; and as a way of retiring and reducing the workload.

Reasons for making the switch:
  • Labour;
  • Lifestyle;
  • Walking distance;
  • Outlet farm;
  • Off-farm job;
  • Drystock farmers;
  • Means to retirement.

“A rough figure given is a 20% reduction in milk solids when farmers switch from TAD to OAD, but it affects different cows in different ways. But you are going to take a drop in yield so you will take a drop in income.

“However, this drop in income is partially compensated by a higher price which is – on average – approximately 5c/L more. While you have lower volume, you will have a higher fat and protein percentage.”

He also highlighted that farmers will have lower costs such as labour, electricity and parlour running costs, coupled with better health and fertility. The Teagasc advisor also outlined that farmers will have more time to manage their farms, with less resultant stress on the farmer and the cow.

However, Brian highlighted that it is important that farmers plan ahead if thinking about making the switch and that getting to know the cows that suit the system is paramount.

A successful OAD system requires cows that suit the system. Poor-performing, high SCC cows with bad udders need to be culled from the herd; grassland management also needs to be of a high standard.

“Farmers need to select bulls that produce cows of medium size, that have good resistance to mastitis and that have good udder support,” he explained.

Finally, Brian recommended visiting other OAD farms and joining discussion groups if farmers are serious about transitioning.

Other speakers

Today’s event featured a number of presentations from Teagasc advisors. Teagasc’s George Ramsbottom presented a paper on a case-study where a dairy farmer was entering the second season operating a OAD milking system.

Teagasc’s Dr. Joe Patton outlined the nutrition guidelines involved, when it comes to a OAD dairy herd.

In addition, Gillian O’Sullivan (Co. Waterford), Declan White (Co. Cork) and Ed Payne (Co. Roscommon) spoke of the benefits they have witnessed since making the switch to OAD milking.

More from today’s conference will be published over the coming days.