Three times-a-day milking stacks up

WHILE it may not suit everyone’s farm, milking three times-a-day is proving to be working well on one unit in Newcastle upon Tyne.

For some dairy farmers, milking cows twice-a-day is hard enough, but this is not the case for Dennis and Richard Gibb, who run a 360-hectare (900-acre) dairy and arable business in partnership at Eachwick Red House Farm in Newcastle upon Tyne.

The brothers, who milk 250 Holsteins, turned to milking three times-a-day milking about four years ago.

Richard says: “Initially, we wanted to increase yield and margin so saw this as the best way to do it.”

“Cows would come into the parlour with full udders and we were getting some problems with milk leakage, so we thought splitting the milkings up would aim to reduce this.”

Of the 250 cows, 210 cows are milked three times daily and the remaining 40 are milked twice. This is split between six groups, with five groups of high yielders and one group of lows.

Richard says: “We milk the lows first in a morning followed by the highs. This way it is best for the cows.”

The farm’s first milking begins at 4am, second at 2pm and then night-milking at 9pm.

Housing

Cows are housed in a cubicle system on sawdust with automatic slurry scrapers keeping feed alleys clean. Calving cows are housed in loose straw yards which keep udders clean and cows as comfortable as possible.

But three times-a-day milking is not for everyone and the pair are first to admit it.

Richard says: “Staffing is a big problem. We were fortunate in already having someone who would do night milking, so this made the decision easier.

“Not many people want to milk cows, especially in the night, so it really is down to each individual farm whether it suits them or not.

“It also means in the summer you are spending more time getting cows in. Also, we make less use of grass as cows spend a little more time inside, but we put emphasis on having cows out as much as we can.”

This said, cow welfare is top of the list of priorities for the brothers with a strong focus on nutrition and cow health.

Dennis says: “I think three times-a-day milking is good for the cow. It certainly did what it said on the tin and the benefits outweigh any costs.

“We get less milk per milking, but milking is quicker and we do not have as much udder leaking as we did. Milkings also don’t drag on through the day either.”

Richard adds: “You won’t make a lot more money from three times-a-day milking because you still have variable costs.

“There are more chemicals for cleaning, more water, electricity, feed and labour, but I suppose we are still doing it so we find it works well for us.”

Cow health is a major focus for the brothers and this has been improved somewhat in recent years through a cluster flushing system installed in the parlour. This helps keep Bactoscan levels down and improve cleanliness. The brothers’ use of pre and post-dip sprays also ensures udder health is at its best.

Attention to detail does not stop there. Like many dairy farms, nutrition is a key focus, with a ration built for different cow groups according to whether they are milked twice or three times.

Feed

Diet is made up predominantly of silage, but also maize meal, soya hulls, pro soya, parlour cake and minerals for high yielding cows, while low yielders get silage, straw and parlour cake.

Cows are also fitted with pedometers, feeding straight into a computer, so data on each cow is easily accessed to see which cow is eating what and if that is translated in yield. This also allows quantities of parlour cake to be altered according to individual cow requirements.

While herd health is top of priorities, fertility is also high on the agenda, with artificial insemination (AI) used to select the best genetics for replacements, which are mainly home-bred.

Heat detection is done visually and with the aid of heat mount detectors. With staff available for both the arable and dairy unit, cows are easily detected when in heat.

AI is carried out across most of the herd, predominantly with British Blue semen and an Aberdeen-Angus bull to sweep up. All the resulting beef sired progeny is sold straight off the farm to a private buyer, with replacement dairy heifers kept in separate housing on a neighbouring farm.

Aside from the dairy unit, wheat, barley and oilseed rape are grown in rotation with grass. This allows some home-grown crops to be used for feed while the remaining crop is marketed through Tyne Grain.

While the dairy is tying, Richard and Dennis manage to fit in most of the arable work, with the help of one full-time tractor driver and a number of staff which are shared between the dairy and arable units. Operations such as combining and slurry spreading are contracted out.

Sheep are also grazed over winter to manage grassland. While this provides some additional income, sheep manage the sward so it is in good condition ahead of turnout in the spring. It is also a good source of nutrition for lambs which grow well on the high sugar grasses.

While the Gibbs run a busy operation, it is a system which works well for them, says Richard. However, he adds, what works on their farm may not work on others, and developing a system which is suited to a particular farm and its resources is of paramount importance.


Eachwick Red House Farm facts

  • Comprises a 250-cow dairy herd plus arable land used for growing cereals
  • Calving is year-round and milk is sold to Arla
  • Wheat, barley, oilseed rape and grass are the main crops
  • There are X full-time employees on the farm with casual staff employed at busy times
  • Most work is carried out in-hand although combining and some silage operations are contracted out


The Gibbs’ views on three times-a-day milking

  • Variable costs are still there: electricity, chemicals, water
  • Staffing can be an issue
  • Manage cow health accordingly
  • Milkings are less prolonged
  • Nutrition must be carefully examined
  • Varies according to farm and system
  • Can take more time in summer but generally costs outweigh benefits

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