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Missed milkings due to power cuts or extreme weather events can be managed without severely affecting your cows' milk production. DairyNZ research indicates that mid-lactation herds can tolerate up to a week's delay. However, early lactation herds require more care. If milking resumes, remember that flexibility in milking frequency is acceptable, but complete milking and proper hygiene are crucial to prevent mastitis. Communicate with your dairy company in emergencies, and consult local authorities if you must dump milk. Feeding your herd well and considering drying off based on your situation are also vital components of managing these interruptions.
Power cuts or significant weather events will probably mean that some milkings will be missed, but cows are resilient.
DairyNZ research has shown that delays of up to a week can be tolerated by mid-lactation herds, and with careful handling they can return to full or near-full milk production. The objective of the study was to determine whether lactation could be re-initiated after several days without milking.
If there are heavy demands on your time clearing away damage or sorting out problems it may be worthwhile to miss a few milkings and sacrifice some production in the short term to allow you to cope better for the rest of the season.
Herds in early lactation are more problematic, but there may be the option of leaving calves on cows where shelter is available or reducing milking frequency for a short period of time.
Remember that twice daily milking is not essential. If you are sharing milking facilities with neighbours or if more urgent things require time you can afford to be flexible and milk once-a-day or use flexible milking such as 3-in-2, or 10-in-7.
Resist the temptation to rush through milkings. Make sure cows are properly milked out to reduce the risk of mastitis developing.
Stock are likely to be confined to smaller areas than usual and so udders will be dirty. Attention to hygiene is very important, and teats should be sprayed manually after each milking to ensure complete coverage.
SCCs typically take 2 to 5 days to fall below 400,000 cells/ml depending on the period without milking and the SCC of the herd prior to the changes in milking frequency.
In the DairyNZ trials, a quarter of the cows not milked for 7 days developed mastitis. Higher levels are likely in commercial herds. Vigilance is essential for the long-term health and productivity of the herd and for food safety.
If significant damage and farm impacts have led to missed milkings, you may also be considering drying off when power returns or a generator can be sourced.
You can refer to the drying off abruptly webpage, but the key is to:
In emergencies dairy companies are usually able to accept milk with higher cell counts. Fonterra for example will not penalise suppliers if SCCs are high in the first two consignments after an extreme weather event. Contact your area manager, field rep., or service centre.
Talk to district or regional councils. They will have contingency plans for emergency disposal of milk, and they will be keen to help and advise. What suits your situation will depend on volumes and facilities available and on soil conditions, etc. Options can include irrigation onto pasture or ploughed land, constructed ponds or trenches, and limited disposal to oxidation ponds.
Any sustained reduction in feed quality or volume will start the drying-off process and it will be harder to get cows back to full production (especially later in lactation), so feed cows as well as you can and ensure that they have access to clean water. Take care if feed type is radically changed.