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Once-a-day milking: the impacts on Cheddar cheese

Once-a-day milking: the impacts on Cheddar cheese

Research into milking frequency and Cheddar cheese production has produced some fascinating insights into such a move, Richard Page, a PhD student and Walsh Scholar at Teagasc, tells us more.

Life on dairy farms is typically punctuated every morning and evening by the rhythm of milking, with twice-a-day milking being the usual way of dairying in Ireland. However, milking once-a-day is now emerging as a potential game-changer. Throughout the western-world, work practices are shifting towards those that support greater work-life-balance, with the wellness and workload of farmers being a hot topic.

These time savings have also allowed some farms the capacity for diversification, resulting in more adaptable farming businesses. Consequently, reduced milking frequency strategies have started to gain some traction.

Why is less milk controversial?

But many farmers might not be keen to shift away from well-established approaches. Perhaps they have milked twice-a-day for multiple generations and are reluctant to change something that works? Concerns exist that the practice will make them poorer. Indeed, milking less does reduce overall milk volume, and less milk produced by a dairy farm... can that really make good business sense?!

Milking frequency decisions can be considered on a cost-benefit basis. If earnings are lost by milking less, the loss should be offset by value created elsewhere. Economists might consider this through the opportunity cost of the second milking. Another relevant economic concept is the assumption that rational agents should act to maximise their earnings. In the past, the economics of many industries might have considered this narrowly, maximising earnings being seen as workers working as much as possible. Now, a more nuanced stance hopefully prevails, rational agency including the all-important consideration that great costs result when individuals are overworked.

What the research says

Allied to this debate, research carried out at UCC and Teagasc delved into the relationship between milking frequency and dairy products, specifically Cheddar. The global position of Irish grass-fed dairy is respected and envied and is a good news story. In Ireland, around one-third of milk goes into cheese production, so cheese is a key dairy product. When changing successful practices for successful foods, it’s important to consider and understand the impacts of those changes.

Milk was collected from two groups of research cows: one group underwent once-a-day milking; the other underwent twice-a-day milking. Cheddar was made and scientific investigations explored the effects within the cheese in terms of composition, yield, nutrition and overall quality.


Regardless of milking frequency, the composition of all cheese was consistent with previously reported results for Cheddar. No significant compositional differences were observed. The percentages of fat, protein, and lactose were not significantly affected.


Once-a-day milk yielded significantly more cheese per litre of milk, so, the milk seems to offer enhanced efficiency within cheese manufacturing.

Consumer acceptance

 Enjoying cheese hinges on sensory attributes. Lab based texture experiments replicate the mouth-feel of food, and these revealed no significant differences. Further relevant analyses showed no significant, or only low-magnitude, differences (proteolysis, fatty-acid and volatile profiles). However, cheese made from once-a-day milk was significantly more yellow. More yellow cheese is typically preferred by consumers, the colour is widely associated with that good news story of Irish grass-fed dairy.


Once-a-day milking resulted in cheese with 31% higher β-carotene content. The body converts β-carotene to Vitamin A, it has numerous health benefits.

Beyond the detail of esoteric results, many factors showed no significant differences. Based on this study, it is suggested Irish farmers can choose to milk cows less without a significant negative impact on cheese. The work only looked at Cheddar, but a lot of milk is used for making Cheddar.

Richard Page and Prabin Lamichhane cut milk gel as part of the process of making Cheddar cheese at Teagasc Food Research Centre

Richard Page and Prabin Lamichhane cut milk gel as part of the process of making Cheddar cheese

The takeaways

Going back to specific results, these suggest we can work smarter rather than harder with benefits for dairy business, cheese consumers and farmers. Increased cheese-making efficiency with once-a-day milk should benefit manufacturers. Yellower cheese should be favoured by consumers, and might be commercially advantageous to manufacturers. The higher β-carotene content should be investigated further, if it translates to a meaningful health impact this brings further benefits.

The cheese making potential of once-a-day milk might add value to the practice. If cows can be milked less whilst yielding more cheese per litre of milk, cheese that might also be better from a sensory and nutritional perspective - that sounds like a win. The benefit of this added value might even justify the lower milk volume associated with once-a-day milking, provided financial incentives are structured appropriately.

In this scenario, once-a-day milking might be adopted more extensively, leading to enhanced work-life-balance on dairy farms. Then again, maybe this will prove too good to be true? It does sound akin to both having your proverbial cheese and eating it - a cheesy take on cakeism. More research is still needed, but, the possibilities are compelling.

This article, written by Richard Page, was first published on RTÉ Brainstorm.

Read the article on RTÉ Brainstorm here

Also read: Weather, workload and money: the issues stressing Irish farmers

Also read: Can farmers combining livestock and crops improve sustainability?