A three-year research project to get underway in New Zealand’s upcoming season will examine the human, animal and production impacts of milking three times in two days.
The DairyNZ-led research is funded by a $499,536 grant from the Sustainable Farming Fund and a further $306,914 of co-finding from DairyNZ.
Research co-ordinator DairyNZ scientist Paul Edwards says that increasing flexibility at milking time has been looked at before, as early as the 1950s and more recently in the 1980s, but very little research has been undertaken in modern farming systems.
Recently, the only research in this field has focused on once-a-day milking – and Paul says different milking intervals are used mostly as a tactical response to on-farm conditions.
“This research will give farmers the information they need to make decisions about a more strategic use of a three-milkings-in-two-days milking regime.
“People are increasingly interested and asking questions about how they can maximise the effectiveness of different milking intervals and they want to know what they are getting themselves in for.
“I’m excited about the research because it has the potential to make a big impact,” says Paul.
The first year of the study will focus on learning from farmers already using three-in-two and a farmlet trial at Lincoln University Research Farm, where four different three-in-two scenarios will be tested.
One group will be milked three times in two days for the whole season. Two groups will start the season milking twice-a-day, with one group moving to three-in-two milking on December 1; the third group will move to three-in-two on March 1. Finally, a control group will milk twice-a-day the whole season.
“We’ll be gathering data about the impact on milk production, body condition, animal behaviour, pasture production and grazing management,” says Paul, and key data will be reported fortnightly on the DairyNZ website.
Analysis in year one will focus on measuring the impact on farm productivity and production. In year two this will expand to piloting three-in-two on commercial farms, including measures to evaluate the human impacts on moving to a three-in-two milking system, says Paul.
The last year will focus on modelling to predict outcomes in different flexible milking scenarios. Years two and three will also see the co-development of resources and events with farmers to share project learnings.
“We want to have been able to test all combinations of three-in-two during the research, and then we anticipate using the data to refine existing models to predict outcomes of different scenarios, like what if a farmer wanted to go once-a-day during calving – to reduce work at a busy time – then go twice-a-day through peak lactation, then three-in-two through mid-lactation and once-a-day near dry off.
“Ultimately, the research is about trying to improve the sustainability of the farm system, particularly for staff and increasing the attractiveness of the industry to make it easier to attract and retain quality people,” says Paul.