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Milking interval relationship with PM finish time


A long milking interval is a driver of late PM finish time and long working days. Martina Gormley Teagasc, Animal & Grassland Research & Innovation Centre, Athenry and Noirin McHugh Teagasc, Animal & Grassland Research & Innovation Centre, Moorepark examine milking interval implications for farmers

Summary

  • Milking interval has no effect on milk kg per cow, therefore, there is no cost to reducing milking interval to a 16:8 hr interval
  • There is a strong relationship between milking interval and length of the normal working day on dairy farms
  • Average finish time in study herds was 18:43 across the year. There was a large range in PM finish time. This a key issue for attracting and retaining people in the industry.

Introduction

Farm structure in Ireland has seen a dramatic change in recent years. Average herd size has increased from 64 cows in 2010 to over 80 cows in 2019 (NFS 2020).  This increase in average herd size means that the traditional owner-operator plus additional family input model is struggling with the new realities of herd size. The sustainability of dairy farming increasingly relies farms being able to provide employment opportunities where pay and conditions of work are at least as attractive as alternative careers. Previous studies with dairy farm employees found that the hours worked on dairy farms can make employment unattractive. PM finish time was cited as the critical issue for employees. As Irish farms are competing with industries that typically offer a 5pm or 6pm finish time, this is an topics that needs to be examined. The aim of this paper was to investigate the average PM finish time on Irish dairy farms.

Data

To investigate the relationship between PM finish time and milking interval, milk recording data from 2,366 herds across 23 counties for one year (2020) were analysed. Across all herds, the mean PM finish time was 18:43pm. The length of the working day was nearly 12 hours (Table 1). However, there was large variation between herds with PM finish time ranging from 16:39-11:22pm and the length of the working day ranging from 8.5 hours-16.4 hours.

 

Relationship between milking interval and milk kg/cow/day

Milking interval is defined as the time from when the first cluster goes on in the morning to the time the first cluster goes on again in the evening. To reduce the length of the working day in a twice a day? milking scenario, previous research has shown a 16:8 hour interval split is feasible, for example morning milking start time of 7am and 3pm. In this study the mean milking interval of was closer to 10 hours (Table 1). One of the reasons for having a longer milking interval in the evening is the legitimate concern of reducing milk kg per cow. However, data collected on commercial herds for the current study showed no relationship between milking interval and daily milk yield. Similarly, milking interval had no effect on SCC.

 

Figure 1. Relationship between milking interval and milk kg per day

Outside of the calving season, on most farms the last task of the day is usually milking. Therefore, evening milking start time and duration can dictates the time at which the working day ends. A key finding from this study was that milking interval had a very strong relationship with the length of the working day (Figure 2); it was a more important factor than duration of evening milking. This result shows that for many farms, changing milking time should be the first step to improve labour efficiency before any high cost solutions such as adding extra units to speed up milking.

 

Figure 2. Relationship between milking interval and length of the working day

Seasonal variation in milking time

A large  daily workload is understandably cited as a reason why milking times cannot be changed on many dairy farms. Previous labour survey work has shown that spring is by far the busiest time of the year for spring-calving herds, with daily workload reducing from mid-summer. With this in mind, one might conclude that milking intervals could potentially be shortened later in the season. However, our analysis found that there is very little change in mean milking interval by season (Figure 3). This would suggest that longer milking intervals are fixed and habitual on many farms, rather than being solely dictated by workload.

 

Figure 3. Mean milking interval by season

Practical implications

As herd size grows, some adaptations to work routine may need to be made to ensure a good quality of life for both farmers and employees. A long milking interval is a driver of late PM finish time and long working days. Reducing milking interval in line with the target 16:8 milking interval has no effect on milk kg per cow per day. This provides an opportunity to shorten the standard working day on farms at no milk yield loss. This has benefits for the farmer and potential employee alike. Reviewing how work is organised and executed on the farm is crucial to changing milking interval.

In the below clip, Martina Gormley, Teagasc Dairy Specialist investigates the average PM finish time on Irish dairy farms.

 

This article was produced as part of the two-day Virtual Dairy Conference 2021 which took place on 23 and 24 November.

The complete Dairy Conference Proceedings can be viewed here and the individual articles will be published on Teagasc Daily throughout the week.