Overseas, it’s not uncommon to use a 12-12 hour milking interval (e.g. 5am and 5pm), creating long days. In New Zealand, with a desire to improve lifestyle, particularly with larger herds, the traditional TAD milking interval has been 10-14 hours, milking at 5AM and 3PM. However, this still leads to long days, particularly if your herd size and dairy size result in milkings of longer than two hours.
Research, both in New Zealand and overseas, including in high-producing North American systems, has demonstrated that there is no significant difference in milksolid production between 12-12 hour intervals and 8-16 hour intervals. This is because milk accumulation in the udder is almost linear for up to 16 hours post-milking.
The shorter interval between AM and PM milkings allows a redesign of the day, offering later starts and/or earlier finishes, increasing workplace attractiveness, and reducing the need for 4am starts. Despite this opportunity, relatively few farmers are taking advantage of this opportunity (see graph).
How to implement
Selecting when to milk will be farm specific. Ask your team and come up with a plan that is desirable for everyone, whether that be a sleep-in, earlier finishes, or a bit of both. Working with the farm team on the best way to structure the day is important to ensure that they can benefit from the change without affecting other non-milking jobs that are important for the farm. Reducing day length will likely benefit farm efficiency through a more motivated team (work-life balance) and improved rest time, resulting in fewer mistakes.
Early adopters have noted that with an 8-16 hour milking interval, about two thirds of the milk will be harvested in the morning, which in some circumstances can result in a long milking. For those with automatic cluster removers (ACRs), increasing the pulsation ratio may be a simple solution to increase the rate of milk harvest without impacting udder health. Check with your local plant service provider if this may be suitable for your farm.
Another approach, whether you have ACRs or not, is to use a maximum milking time (MaxT herringbone, MaxT rotary), which will help optimise your milking routine and efficiency without impacting production or milk quality. In particular, apply MaxT at the morning milking. This is where the greatest efficiency gain can be made, due to the greater volume of milk to harvest. The overall aim in this situation is to shorten the slowest 20% of the herd at the morning milking.
- McMeekan, C. P. and P. J. Brumby. 1956. Milk production and interval between milking. Nature 178:799. https://doi.org/10.1038/178799a0
- Schmidt, G. H. and G. W. Trimberger. 1963. Effect of Unequal Milking Intervals on Lactation Milk, Milk Fat, and Total Solids Production of Cows. J. Dairy Sci. 46:19-21. https://doi.org/10.3168/jds.S0022-0302(63)88956-0
- Turner, H. G. 1955. The effect of unequal intervals between milkings upon milk production and diurnal variation in milk secretion. 6:530-538. https://doi.org/10.1071/AR9550530
- O'Brien, B., J. O'Connell and W. J. Meaney. 1998. Short-term effect of milking interval on milk production, composition and quality. Milchwissenschaft 53:123-126.
- Edwards, J. P., B. Kuhn-Sherlock, B. T. Dela Rue and C. R. Eastwood. 2020. Short communication: Technologies and milking practices that reduce hours of work and increase flexibility through milking efficiency in pasture-based dairy farm systems. J. Dairy Sci. https://doi.org/10.3168/jds.2019-17941