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Move back to twice a day milking brings benefits

Sector News Sector News1-11-2019

Taking cows back to twice-a-day milking has cut production costs and reduced working hours for one Cheshire dairy herd.  This has allowed the family and staff to concentrate more time on setting management priorities and looking after the cows.

Matthew Scott farms with his parents Andrew and Angela on 350 acres at Mickerra Farm, Burwardsley near Chester.  Matthew is one of triplets and his sisters still relief milk on farm while pursuing careers elsewhere. He returned to the farm after completing his degree at university and took a long hard look at the herd that was on a three times a day milking system.

“Everything was under stress - the cows, the machinery, the building and the people,” says Matthew. “The plan was always to expand the herd to 500 cows but at 320 we were having issues, so what would it be like at 500?”

Matthew Scott (left)  with Clive Slawson and his father Andrew Scott.
Matthew Scott (left) with Clive Slawson and his father Andrew Scott.

Milking times

In August 2017, the herd moved back from milking three times a day to two times a day milking and hasn’t looked back. On three times a day milking cows were giving an average yield of 11,000 litres at 3.75% fat and 3.20% protein. Now, on twice a day milking, cows give an average 10,107 litres at 4.28% fat and 3.39% protein.

“As Arla members our milk constituents are crucially important but that’s not the whole story,” explains Matthew.  “Our total fat and protein amounts have reduced slightly as we’ve moved away from milking three times a day but the costs saved have more than made up for it.”

Replacement rates

His father Andrew Scott explains:  “We’re a flying herd so know the exact cost of each replacement we buy into the farm. When the herd was milking three times a day the replacement rates stood at 37%. “On twice a day that’s fallen to 23% and means we’re buying in 14% fewer cows each year. With a 300 strong herd that’s 42 fewer replacements at an average of £1,750 per cow, saving us £73,500 a year.”

Reduced working hours

The family has also been able to reduce working hours both for themselves and the staff. This has cut costs and made the job more attractive, thereby keeping high quality staff in the business. They now have time to meet as a team to discuss issues and priorities and, most importantly, spend more time managing the cows.

“Our cows milk at the expense of everything else,” says Matthew. “When they were on three times a day milking the slightest pressure led to an issue. They were under metabolic stress and had lost their robustness. Milking twice a day has improved health and welfare. The cows are more resilient, the vet’s bill has reduced and we have time to enjoy managing them better.” 

Maintaining, and even increasing, milk constituents was a crucial part of the plan when reducing the number of milkings. The Scott family has worked with Clive Slawson from ForFarmers for over 12 years and feel he is a key part of the farm team. They talked to him about managing the diet in the new system and what they were trying to achieve.

“We wanted to keep the diet as consistent as possible,” says Clive. “Forage is 50:50 maize: grass and cows are fed a TMR ration consisting of a ForFarmers blend (23% to 26% protein), recycled bread, minerals, fat and water. Cows have a concentrate feed rate of 0.33 kg/litre, and this didn’t change when the number of milkings was reduced.

Water is added to the ration, depending on forage dry matters, to prevent cows sorting the TMR.
Water is added to the ration, depending on forage dry matters, to prevent cows sorting the TMR.

Balanced rations

“Feeding high performing cows is like a jigsaw, with each piece playing its part to make up the picture. High quality forage is important, as is analysing it so you know the nutritional composition of the diet’s building blocks. The main aim is to keep them happy.  If we’re feeding high protein silage we’ll pull back on the protein in the blend. It’s all about balance,” he explains.

 “ForFarmers FatBoost went into the cows’ diet about a year ago to help increase fat levels in the milk,” explains Clive. “It’s an amino acid feed product that can help influence milk butterfat levels by limiting the negative effect polyunsaturated fatty acids can have on rumen bacteria.  So far, we’ve had success in increasing fat percentages, and I know the Scotts are aiming for 4.3%.”

Adding water to diet

Although not fully compact feeding, the Scotts are keen to make sure there is no sorting of the diet so add water and mix it thoroughly to give a sticky consistency. “We make sure we mix but not overmix,” says Matthew. “We adapt the amount of water we add depending on the dryness of the forages. We also clean out the feed barrier every morning so cows have access to the freshest food.”

Robotic feed pusher investment

The Scotts invested in a robot to push the feed up to the barrier 10 times a day when they moved to two times a day milking, again  saving on labour costs.

High quality forage has been key to the herd’s development. The Scotts have a good relationship with their contractor and aim to cut, ideally, every four weeks across the season. “We cut grass more often but shorter to improve quality,” says Matthew. This year’s first cut analysis showed ME 11.8, CP 15.4, D value 73.6 and DM 33.4%. Fertiliser use has fallen by 50% in the last four years as the Scott's now inject all their slurry.

Five-year management plan

The Scotts have a five-year plan to expand cow numbers to 340, but their main aim is to keep supplying what their milk buyer wants at the time they want it. With this in mind the Scott's buy in their replacements in May, June and July to make the most of their seasonality payment. “We’re building a herd that is both so much more enjoyable to work with and meets the needs of our milk buyer,” concludes Matthew.