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 forms of flexible milking are milking three times in two days (3-in-2) and ten milkings in seven days (10-in-7).
Implementing flexible milking
Information on this page has been gathered through experiments and from farmers already utilising flexible milking.
Flexible milking pilot farms
We followed farms that used flexible milking strategies during the 2020/21 season. See their profiles where some have regular updates throughout the season and others have an annual summary.
Is flexible milking right for you?
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.
What do farmers say about using flexible milking:
"Using 3-in-2 during mid-late lactation gives us flexibility with rosters, and allows me to give staff leave over summer without needing extra cover"
"Choosing 10-in-7 means we are only milking our 400 cows OAD over the weekends, which we and our staff love!"
"It has a positive effect on BCS especially when the herd is on long walks late in lactation"
"The benefit of a sleep in every second day is large"
"This is our second season going 10-in-7. Staff love it, cows love it, I love it."
Common benefits and challenges reported by farmers:
For people For animals For lifestyle Staff attraction and retention Body condition Flexibility Better work hours Lameness Family time More flexibility Overall cow health Wellbeing
Improved reproductive performance
from carry over effects.
Time to recover and refresh from a
sleep in every other day
Less hot afternoon milkings
Getting grazing and pasture management correct. Choosing the right schedule/times for the whole team.
As well as a number of benefits, there are also some potential trade-offs.
Tauranga farmer Nick Dowson and his manager Rick share what they were concerned about and what gave them the confidence to try full season
Example economic and production results
Production and profit impacts are a key driver behind the decisions you make on farm. The Pilot farmers around New Zealand have demonstrated how economical flexible milking can be, as demonstrated by the snapshot of John Totty’s results below.
Not everyone will be able to increase production as seen here, but many farms could operate using flexible milking without a substantial drop in profitability.
OAD for 3 weeks at calving then TAD 2019/2020 OAD for 3 weeks at calving then 10-in-7 2020/2021 Production 377 kgMS/cow 378 kgMS/cow FWE $4.90/kgMS $4.69/kgMS Profit/ha $2271/ha $3641/ha
Milking and mating times used by pilot farmers
A common question farmers ask us is what mating times other farmers are using. Different times suit different teams, it’s important to work with the people on your farm to decide what flexible milking times to use. To give you an idea, you can see the times used by the pilot farmers. They didn’t all begin with the times displayed, they have adapted them overtime to suit them. More detailed information can be found on the implementing flexible milking page.
Some farmers have said that working out the grazing is the trickiest part and that it is easily overcomplicated.
There are two systems that farmers have recommended:
- Working on a 48-hour/2-day feed allowance, or
- Calculating feed allocation by hour to allocate feed relative to the hours spent in the paddock.
- Some farmers have said this option can be complicated and has tripped them up.
More information on grazing can be found on the Implement Flexible Milking.
When to use 3-in-2
Selecting when in the season to use flexible milking 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 flexible milking 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:
- TAD full season,
- 3-in-2, full season,
- 3-in-2 from Dec 1,
- 3-in-2 from March 1.
There was a significant linear effect, implying that at any stage of lactation there was a cost to protein production (-8%) or benefit to BCS (6%), which was proportional to the duration of using 3-in-2.
An example of the different impacts that could be seen from using 3-in-2 at different times of the season:
TAD 196 kg 248 kg 4.4 444 3-in-2 from March 1 (Final 30% of season) (-8%*30%) =
Not significantly different (+6%*30%) =
439 3-in-2 from Dec 1 (Final 60% of season) (-8%*60%) =
Not significantly different (+6%*60%) =
435 3-in-2 full season -8% =
Not significantly different +6% =
Condition score benefits are likely to be better on a commercial farm than shown here as walking distances in the experiment were small in comparison.
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.
Five of these farmers implemented full season 3-in-2 milking, only one of them experienced a drop in herd milk production.
Farmers have asked about when to use flexible milking and when to use OAD
Farmers have asked about when to use flexible milking and when to use OAD.
Figure 1 shows the production impact experienced by ~300 commercial herds that adopted OAD between 2008 and 2015. Their production for 4 years prior to changing to OAD milking, year 0 represents the first season of OAD and then the affects OAD milking had over the next 4 years is plotted.
The figure uses kg MS/cow which offers limited insight into the farm system changes that may also have occurred at the same time. However, it illustrates that it is easier to maintain production levels in lower producing herds. Conversely, it is likely harder to maintain profit with OAD in higher producing herds and/or farms with less ability to reduce costs. In these circumstances flexible milking may be a more appropriate strategy.
Research results and experiences of farmers using flexible milking strategies ranges from no decrease in production to ~-5% relative to TAD milking.
Flexible milking case study and research
What prompted the Lincoln University Demonstration Dairy Farm’s move to full-season 10-in-7 milking? And what impact has it had on animal health, fertility, production and staff wellbeing? We speak with demonstration lead Jeremy Savage. Also on the episode is DairyNZ scientist Paul Edwards, who shares what the research is telling us about the effect of different milking intervals on milk production, fat and protein yields, and even sleeping patterns for farm staff.
Better workplaces through flexible milking
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?
Research papers and Farmer case studies
If you would like to read the research behind the information provided on these flexible milking pages you can read research papers and other publications relating to flexible milking here.
- Inside Dairy Oct-Nov 2021 - DairyNZ
- Reducing milking frequency from twice each day to three times each two days affected protein but not fat yield in a pasture-based dairy system (journalofdairyscience.org)
- Milking options to increase flexibility and workplace attractiveness.pdf
- Comparison of milk production and herd characteristics in New Zealand herds milked once or twice a’day (pasturesummit.co.nz)