NZ Dairy Spring 2021

26 | nz dairy Milking Systems » DairyNZ Flexible milking provides options on farm Richard Loader F lexible milking is an alternative system to more traditional milking intervals, such as once or twice-a-day milking systems. The most common form of flexible milking is milking three times in two days, known as 3-in-2 milking, which provides options for farmers to alter current milking times and frequency, to better suit their needs. DairyNZ’s Senior Scientist Paul Edwards explains that changing milking schedules is a way to reduce work hours, increase flexibility and improve dairy’s competitiveness as a workplace. “We have seen flexible milking become more popular over the years, particularly in the South Island,” says Dr Edwards. “Farmers have currently been adopting this either for the full season, or just part of the season, depending on what suits their farm system and needs best.” To build confidence and further understanding of the human, animal and pasture response to 3-in-2 milking, the Flexible Milking project was launched in July 2019 by DairyNZ, co-funded by the Ministry for Primary Industries’ Sustainable Farming Fund. “The overall goal of the project is to achieve better on-farm wellbeing and workplace attrac- “Farmers we have engaged with to date have seen advantages for both their people and cows, with little to no impact, and sometimes even an increase in production.” Paul 027 244 3354 | Kyllee 027 688 8677 tiveness, while maintaining profitability,” explained Dr Edwards. “To achieve this, we initially focused on learning from farmers already using flexible milking systems, alongside setting up a farm- let trial at Lincoln University Research Farm which was then expanded to pilot farms in year two.” Three of the farmlets involved were milking 3-in-2, one for the full season. These herds produced 8% less protein but saw no effect on fat production, while a 6% increase in body condition was seen in May, just prior to dry off. Following the farmlet trial, farmers subscribed to the Flexible Milking project updates were asked to be involved in the next stage, which resulted in six pilot farms being followed. Out of the pilot farmers involved in the 2020/21 Flexible Milking study, who implemented 3-in-2, one for the full season, only one experienced a drop in herd milk production. “Farmers we have engaged with to date have seen advantages for both their people and cows, with little to no impact, and sometimes even an increase in production,” says Dr Edwards. One of the key benefits of a 3-in-2 milking interval is it provides an excellent opportunity to reduce the hours of work and increase flexibility for people on farm. This gives time to work with their farm team to ensure they benefit from the change, without impacting other non-milking jobs that are important for the farm. Having milking at different times of the day means farmers are able to provide staff with the opportunity for different times off or employ casual staff that may not have been accessible otherwise. This increased flexibility will likely benefit farm efficiency through a more motivated team due to improved work-life balance resulting in fewer mistakes on-farm. “Aside from the positive impacts for all farm staff, to date we have also seen a reduction in cow lameness. This particular benefit was significantly seen on the farmlets, due to the benefits of less walking because of the reduced milking frequency.” The adoption of this type of milking interval also comes with some likely cost savings, thanks to 25 per cent fewer milkings. This includes reduced use of detergent, electric- ity and rubberware. However, cost reductions of the whole 25 percent are unlikely to be seen, due to more milk being harvested at the other milkings. Dr Edwards also explains that while exciting to see benefits in a variety of farm business areas when adopting a 3-in-2 milking internal, farmers considering making this change must note all ben- efits and calculations will vary between farms. All farmers need to explore the potential trade- offs of using 3-in-2 at different times in the season, to understand the impacts for their individual farm- ing operations. “Overall, for many farmers there are potentially sufficient cost savings to maintain or improve prof- itability, while improving workplace attractiveness for individual farms and the sector.”