It refers to flexibility in both the timing of the milking during the day, as well as the number of milkings in a week. The most common form of flexible milking is milking three times in two days (3-in-2).
Is flexible milking right for you?
Improved flexibility, increased staff satisfaction and content animals are just some of the benefits of adopting flexible milking strategies. Reasons for implementing 3-in-2 milking on your farm will be specific to your circumstances, so understanding your goals and assessing whether flexible milking will help you achieve them is key to success.
Key reasons for adopting 3-in-2
Farmers identified these key reasons for adopting 3-in-2
Staff attraction and retention Body condition Flexibility Better work hours Lameness Family time More flexibility Cow health Wellbeing
When in the season to use 3-in-2
Selecting when in the season to use 3-in-2 on your farm will come down to your motives, what outcomes you are trying to achieve, and the capability of your team to carry it out at the required stage of the season.
Farmers using 3-in-2 indicate that each year they have started using it earlier in the season, as they begin to see the advantages for both their people and cows, and little to no impact, or sometimes an increase, in production.
Explore potential trade-offs of using 3-in-2
To explore potential trade-offs of using 3-in-2 at different times in the season, a DairyNZ farmlet study was conducted in 2019/20. There were four herds, one being milked TAD for the full season, with the remaining three milking 3-in-2, either full season, from Dec 1, or from March 1.
The full-season 3-in-2 herd produced 8% less protein but there was no effect on fat production and a 6% increase in body condition in May, just before dry-off. For context, the full-season TAD herd produced 448 kg MS/cow (251 kg fat and 197 kg protein) and was BCS was 4.4 in early May.
There was a significant linear effect, implying that at any stage of lactation there was a cost to protein production or benefit to BCS, which was proportional to the duration of using 3-in-2.
For example, if farmer John wants to predict the impact on protein yield if he uses 3-in-2 for the second half of the lactation, he could use the following method:
- Starting protein yield of 197kg/cow (A)
- 8% reduction in protein for 50% of the season = 0.08 x 0.5 (B)
- Multiply A x B = 197 x 0.04 = 7.9 (C)
- Subtract C from A = 197 - 7.9 = 189kg protein/cow
Based on this calculation, farmer John can expect his per cow protein production to drop to 189kg protein/cow if he uses 3-in-2 for half of the season.
More information on this study can be read here, including the effects on lameness and potential implications for profit. However, a key point to note is that in a research environment an equal amount of time and effort went into managing each herd. In a commercial context, there is additional time (or less fatigue) due to fewer milkings that can be used to improve farm management, potentially improving production outcomes, as seen in the pilot farms we followed in 2020/21. These farmers implemented full season 3-in-2 milking, only one experienced a drop in herd milk production. The cause of this drop has not yet been analysed and may be a combination of factors including milking frequency, climate, management etc.
How to implement flexible milking
If you think 3-in-2 milking is right for your farm and you'd like to give it a go, find out how other farmers approached implementing flexible milking.
Tauranga farmer Nick Dowson and his manager Rick share what they were concerned about and what gave them the confidence to try full season 3in2.
Could reducing the number of milkings in a week help the dairy sector attract new staff and improve work-life balance? One farmer who’s gone to a flexible milking schedule is John Totty in Canterbury, currently starting his second full season milking 10 times in 7 days. What were his reasons for changing his milking schedule, and what kind of outcomes is he seeing?