Started in July 2019, Flexible Milking for Healthier People and Cows is a three-year project, led by DairyNZ and funded by $499,536 from the Sustainable Farming Fund and $306,914 from the DairyNZ levy. DairyNZ's Dr Paul Edwards describes the project below.
Follow the progress of the Flexible Milking project by signing up for regular emails showing results from the research and insights into the processes that other farmers have followed when deciding to change their milking frequency.
- Farmers and advisers will have the confidence to adopt, optimise, and support the use of 3-in-2 milking.
- Enhanced wellbeing (less hours spent working on farm and greater flexibility).
- Increased economic sustainability of farming businesses using 3-in-2 milking (through people and cow health).
The first year of the study will focus on learning from farmers already using 3-in-2 strategically. This will help guide development of resources and information. A farmlet trial will also be set up at Lincoln University Research Farm. Four milking frequency scenarios will be tested:
- Full season twice-a-day (TAD) (the baseline for comparison, i.e. ‘control’ scenario).
- 3-in-2 from March.
- 3-in-2 from December.
- Full season 3-in-2.
The impact on milk production, body condition, animal behaviour, pasture production and grazing management will be measured.
Each farmlet will be managed independently, using the same set of decision rules.
Each farmlet consists of 11 paddocks of 0.75 ha and 29 cows, resulting in a stocking rate of 3.5 cows/ha (estimated comparative stocking rate of 81).
Each farmlet will receive 150-180 kg N/ha, applied over 7 applications.
Between planned start of calving and balance date the rotation length will be determined by the spring rotation planner.
After balance date a 22 day rotation will be targeted until mid-Feb, this means each herd grazes a paddock every 2 days.
Herds will be allocated a fresh break after each milking, so for herds milking TAD there will be four beaks per paddock, and for herds milking 3in2 there will be three breaks per paddock.
Paddocks will considered for silage if forecast residuals above target for more than 3 days or if pre-grazing cover is above 3100 kg DM/ha (and feed wedge allows).
A 28-29 day rotation will be targeted mid-Feb to mid-April, and 44 d from mid-April to the end of May.
After calving cows are milked once-a-day for the colostrum period and then enter their allocated herd.
Milking intervals are 12-18-18 for 3in2 and 10-14 for TAD.
For 3in2 this means milking times of 5am, 5pm and then 11am the following day.
For TAD this means milking times of 5am and 3pm.
Weekly farm walk for pasture cover.
Milk volume, flow properties and liveweight will be recorded at each milking
Fortnightly herd test for milk composition.
Monthly body condition score.
Monthly pasture quality, botanical composition, calibration cuts.
Activity monitoring on all cows in the full-season 3in2 and full-season TAD herds via IceQube devices to identify time to first heat.
Activity monitoring on 10 cows per herd via CowManager ear tags for grazing behaviour.
The project will expand to piloting 3-in-2 on commercial farms, including measures to evaluate the effects on people of moving to a 3-in-2 system. A second trial will be conducted to investigate the effect of different intervals used with 3-in-2, (as well as TAD and OAD) on milk production.
Originally, 3-in-2 started as milking every 16 hours (16-16-16), but this has a night milking associated with it. It was then adapted to 14-16-18 and now to 12-18-18 (which will be tested in the farmlets) to suit staff.
This second trial will also look at whether milking intervals could be extended to 21-hour intervals once a week. This would enable two milkings to be completed on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, with one milking each on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.
The focus in this stage will be on modelling to predict outcomes in different flexible milking scenarios. For example, if a farmer wanted to go once-a-day (OAD) milking during calving (to reduce work at a busy time); then go TAD through peak lactation; then 3-in-2 through mid-lactation; and OAD near dry-off.
Dairy farmers will be given results from the project regularly and resources will be developed to help farmers make informed decisions regarding the use of 3-in-2 milking.
Dairy farmers that subscribe will be given results from the project regularly.