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Children’s experience of growing up on a family dairy farm vary. If there are milking and working structures resulting in an early finishing time, the memories are generally very positive. It is unlikely young people will follow a career in dairying if they lose the love of farming along the way.

Dairy Advisor Tom Murphy reports on the findings from ongoing labour studies and various milking routines. These findings were presented on a number of information boards at the Moorepark Open Day in early July. He notes that the boards with a ‘social sustainability’ theme attracted the greatest interest from the huge crowd attending.

Labour availability and management, as well as the farm family lifestyle and welfare are key elements to the future sustainability of dairying.

Findings from labour studies

Ongoing trials have shown:

  • Once a day milking for the first four weeks in spring had no adverse effect on milk quality, output or profitability in the year.
  • Once a day milking all year round is a real option on some farms where labour/work is excessive.
  • 13 times a week milking – taking Sunday evening off – can be practiced on most farms from mid-July onwards.
  • 10 milkings in seven days from mid-July onwards following strict guidelines (2022 data only) showed no adverse effect on milk quality, output or profitability in the year.

Better lifestyle choices

The options for better lifestyle choices were presented in tandem with profitability and economic sustainability. For comparison purposes, ongoing studies attempt to quantify the “hours worked per cow” as well as the “total hours worked per week” at farm level. Previous studies have highlighted that the former measure is always significantly lower on the more efficient and more profitable dairy farms. However, due to varying levels of scale (cow numbers) on different farms, the main operator or others can still be overworked in pursuit of labour efficiency without addressing the length of the working week.

Don’t spend longer that 1 hour 15 minutes in the milking parlour

It is worth noting that almost all dairy farmers interviewed over the years unanimously agree that having to spend longer than 1 hour and 15 minutes inside the parlour (cups on to cups off time) changes the milking experience from a positive experience to a negative, laborious chore. When developing the dairy enterprise, planned milking facilities and cow numbers need to be focused on to address this point.

We all know that milking is the most important job carried out daily on all dairy farms. For this reason, the milking times should be planned and the work day set out around it. In short, the morning milking sets the start of the day and the evening milking needs to finish at a “normal” time.

Create time to engage in social and recreational activities

On all Teagasc dairy farms and many farms where the owner/manager engages regularly in active discussion groups, evening milking commences between 3 and 3.30PM. On the family farm, this allows all family members and workers to engage in active social/recreational time outside of the business.  Simple occasions like watching your children play sport or even getting involved in the coaching process are possible. Of course, when the pressure is on, other farm tasks, drawing in bales, etc. can be completed after finish of milking if needs be – but at least you’re not enslaved to an unavoidable late finishing work day. 

Previous studies have shown that there is not a reduction in milk yield/output or profitability by changing the milking interval from 12:12 hours to 16:8 hours. In other words, where the morning milking commences at 7.30am, the evening milking can commence at 3.30pm.

Studies carried out in 2020 on close to 2,500 Dairy herds across the country involved compiling relevant milking routine data in conjunction with milk recording. They confirmed the previous findings just mentioned relating to milking intervals. The study also revealed some other notable findings and trends.

  • Many herds were in the very high yielding – high input/high output – category and these too showed no adverse yield/output difference relating to the 16 hour: 8 hour interval, despite farmer opinion to the contrary.
  • Scale – size of herd – did not affect the outcomes.  Some big and small herd operators alike spent excessive time in the milking parlour and likewise finished milking very late in the evening.
  • Evening milking finished later in the summer period, and did not finish earlier in the autumn/winter period than in the busy spring period.
  • Evening milking finished earlier in the south east compared to the Connacht region.
  • Galway farmers came out on top for hours spent milking per day.
  • Less than 20% of Galway farmers finished evening milking before 6pm.

Milking practices

Findings relating to herd-size show that milking practices are more related to farm management style than scale of operation. Everyone in the industry understands the compactness of spring calving and the unavoidable workload which it brings. However, with a clearer focus and willingness to change, the evening milking time could be earlier in all other seasons.

Improvements possible on all dairy farms

Management style courting the perceived need to be ever present on the farm can be slow to change. The once a day milking options mentioned above are worth considering on some farms, and further details are available from your advisor if you think a version suits your farm. However, improvements in relation to long working days and late evening milking time are possible on all dairy farms. You owe it to yourself and your family to make sure you’re not on the wrong side of this story when your life and times are being recounted.

Source : Teagasc Aug 5th 2023

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