Milking once a day: will it pay?

25 February 2009

With this season’s conditions and milk prices, a number of dairy farmers are thinking seriously about once-a-day milking.

A small group of dairy farmers in Australia and New Zealand have successfully moved to once-day-milking for a variety of reasons including to improve lifestyle, manage long distances between the dairy and pasture or manage feed shortages at the end of the lactation.

CowTime’s Darold Klindworth says that once-a-day milking is a valid business proposition for some farms. "Milk production does fall when herds are milked once a day. So it’s essential to consider the financial implications before making the change," said Darold.

In some dairy businesses the drop in income can be offset by labour savings, allowing a dairy business to maintain a similar profit level after switching to once-a-day milking.

The financial viability of once-a-day milking is most affected by:

· the scale of the drop in production

· actual labour savings

· grain price and

· milk prices.

These were the ‘big four’ identified by recent study of the economic impact of milking once a day, conducted by Dan Armstrong and Lyndal Metcalf as part of the Future Farming Systems project.

Dan said labour is the big ticket item.

"Some farms may be able to reduce paid labour or increase off-farm income by switching to once-a-day milking, while on other farms it will involve a reduced input from the operator without any chance in cash cost. That’s going to make a big difference to the bottom line," said Dan.

The marginal return from switching to once-a-day milking increases as feed price increases.

Just how much income falls will be determined by both the milk price and the scale of the drop in production.

Dan and Lyndal calculated the break-even point between once-a-day and twice-a-day milking for different milk and grain prices.

The table shows the milk production fall from once-a-day milking that would result in it breaking even with twice-a-day-milking, assuming labour cost savings can be made.

For example, on many farms, the milk price was about $3.50/kg milk protein + fat and grain price about $280/t in February and March 2009. In this case a milk production decrease of about 19% in milk solids would enable once-a-day milking to be as profitable as twice-a-day milking.

"If you are milking once a day, this becomes a guide. Can we milk once a day in March with a 19% or less drop in milk production?" said Dan.

"Low milk prices and high grain prices made once-a-day milking slightly more attractive," he said.

Table: Fall in production (% milk solids) that would allow once a day to break even with twice a day milking

Feed price

Milk price: $3.50/kg Milk protein + fat (26 c/L)

Milk price: $4.0/kg Milk protein + fat (~29 c/L)

Milk price: $4.50/kg Milk protein + fat (34 c/L)

2.5 c/ML
(~$280/t for grain)




3 c/ML
(~$330/t for grain)




Making a decision

Darold said finances are only one of several considerations in making a decision about once-a-day milking.

"The suitability is going to depend very much on the individual farm situation. For example, some farmers may find once-a-day milking a more attractive option than drying off early, as it keeps options open if the season improves," he said.

In the longer term, some dairy farmers offset the drop in per cow milk production by maintaining a higher stocking rate. Other spin off benefits from milking once a day include improved cow body condition and fertility and ‘friendly hours’ for milking and feed allocation tasks making it easier to attract good milking staff.

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