Less milking buys more time
Timboon dairy farmer Mike Jamieson has reached a stage in life where milk production isn’t the only thing driving his operation.
Mike has started using extended milking intervals to free up more time for other jobs and will persist with the system next season — with a few modifications.
The DemoDAIRY Foundation has been investigating the potential for south-west Victorian dairy farmers to use extended milking intervals (EMI) and the system is starting to gain traction.
Mike is one of at least five south-west Victorian dairy farmers now using various incarnations of EMIs.
Mike introduced 10-in-seven-days milking (10-7) at the start of December last year but this coming season he plans to use 11-7 and start earlier.
He’s learnt a few things along the way and is confident the EMI system will have long-term advantages.
“I’d researched it and watched webinars from Ireland and New Zealand and felt that if managed properly you could still get as much production, particularly as milk production was sliding down,” he said.
“I wouldn’t do 10-7 or 11-7 in peak production but our milk in November was starting to come back a bit as the grass wasn’t as lush.”
Mike’s driving motivation was better use of time.
“I have a staff member on 38 hours a week and most of that is taken up with milking,” he said.
“If he’s not doing a few milkings a week, that will free him up to do other jobs around the farm such as fencing or spraying that I was having to do myself.”
Mike’s system involved milking twice a day on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and once a day on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.
The commonly used times in New Zealand are around 8am to 8.30am Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday, and to bridge the gap around 11am to 11.30am on Saturday, but that meant finishing in the middle of the day so Mike brought it forward to about 10am.
“You need to average the gap to about 20 but we were doing 17 and 22,” he said.
“There are plenty who have been milking three-in-two for years. I’d hate in the summer time to be milking in the middle of the day, though milking seven nights a week when it’s hot is not much fun.”
The initial change to 10-7 went smoothly but Mike soon realised he needed to make a few adjustments.
“I was feeding 28 kilos of grain a week so for a start I just pushed the button 10 times instead of 14 so we were back to about 20 kilos a week,” he said.
He now realises that was a mistake. “I should have continued to feed 28 kilos and divide it by 10, or continued to feed 14 times; in the future I’ll average the feed out and keep the same level.”
There was a slight dip in production, but not enough to deter Mike from returning to the flexible system.
“It was hard to put a finger on the reason for the drop — whether it was because I hadn’t made allowances for the drop in grain or whether at that time the grass was going from green and lush to harder and drier.”
Initially health was good and cell count remained the same, but a few cases of clinical mastitis soon started to break through, which could have been aggravated by a problem with inflations.
“In my experience, as it became drier and I had to go to supplementary feed, we’d find the odd cow with mastitis,” Mike said.
“Next year, I’m hoping to eliminate a lot of that by going 11-7 and starting earlier.”
For 2022-23 he plans Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday at 8am to 8.30am, the rest twice a week. He will start somewhere between mid-October and November 1.
“When I changed, at the same time the grass was going from lush to woody; you don’t want to bombard them with too many changes at the same time.”
He will also maintain the same grain input.
Mike milks 240 Jersey-Holstein crossbreds but isn’t confident enough at this stage to say he will maintain the peak 27 litres and high components output during 10-7, but he has seen plenty in New Zealand who have achieved the same production.
But production is not his only influence.
“When you’re younger, you’re looking for every kilo, but now in my mid-50s, production isn’t the be-all and end-all.
“I need other jobs done and was having to do it myself, or the business was having to pay overtime.
“In this system, my employee gets two to three milkings off so there’s another six to nine hours’ work that can be put in on the farm somewhere else.”
The DemoDAIRY Foundation is keen to hear farmers’ thoughts about extended milking intervals, such as 10-in-7, 11-7 or 3-2.
While not actively promoting the system, DemoDAIRY Foundation says it would help interested farmers to find more information if there’s enough interest.
People can register interest in finding out more about extended milking intervals by emailing email@example.com or phoning Ian Teese on 0427 358 987.