Australian farmers look at flexible milking options

A New Zealand pasture-based flexible milking expert is predicting a surge of interest in different milking routines in Australia.

LIC flexible milking expert Brent Boyce
Brent Boyce - LIC FarmWise flexible milking expert

FarmWise farm consultant Brent Boyce, who fostered and developed the concept of flexible milking options in his home country, toured Australia in May this year and found growing interest in the concept.

Mr Boyce, who coined the terms 3-in-2 and 10-in-7 milkings, is encouraging all farmers to look at different options that could create lifestyle and profitability benefits.

“It’s a bit foreign for some farmers in Australia but there’s a lot of surprise about what is possible,” he said.

“It means you can have a sleep-in on a dairy farm – that’s something unheard of for centuries.”

Less than 40 per cent of New Zealand farmers milk twice-a-day all year and Mr Boyce encourages Australian farmers to at least look at the options.

“It’s coming,” he said. “There’s a tsunami of interest because people can see they can make a difference in their lives and businesses.

“We live in a volatile climate and we have to be flexible in how we approach businesses. I don’t tell a farmer what to do but I make a lot of suggestions.”

Mr Boyce said farmers who have a robust pasture-based dairy system won’t lose production if they follow some simple ways of changing but they stand to make more money, improve their mental health, gain significant lifestyle benefits and get happier and healthier cows.

“People ask if they will lose production, when I answer that you’ll make more profit it probably answers the question for them,” he said.

FarmWise is a consultancy business within Livestock Improvement Corporation (LIC) and Mr Boyce’s Australian tour was supported by the DemoDAIRY Foundation. Mr Boyce has 28 years of experience as a dairy farm consultant, including being named New Zealand’s farm consultant of the year in 2016.

Flexible milking – a game changer

Mr Boyce describes flexible milking as a “game changer”. He came up with the term ‘3-in-2’ in 2001, while working with a farmer who had reverted to 16-hour milkings.

“He was doing cups on at 5am, 9pm and 1pm the next day but it was too tough. He was getting smashed and the cows were struggling,” he said. “I said to myself – does it have to be a true 16-hour milking – it could be a different split, so we did 5am, 7pm and 11am the next day which became a 14-16-18-hour split.”

The concept gained traction. “More farmers thought it was a good idea from Christmas because the cows didn’t lose production because they’d already peaked. I called it 3-in-2 and that became internationally quite famous.”

The idea grew in popularity after Mr Boyce presented his ideas at a 2007 once-a-day milking conference.

“People were trying to work out how to do once-a-day. It was more of a curiosity, but by the end of it they were saying something is going on here.”

Fifteen per cent of Mr Boyce’s clients milk once-a- day. “I’m a fan of all systems – every farm is different,” he said.

“We tried to find something that would work better for people and 3-in-2 did its job for many years.”

In 2016, as part of the farm consultant of the year award, Mr Boyce was asked to re-write the papers on 3-in-2, further expanding interest in flexibility. “It’s an incredible change,” he said. “It’s across every different system and every type of dairy farm.”

In 2018 at a FarmWise conference, senior LIC scientist Steve Davis spoke on udder health. “This was the moment I realised we could do even more,” Mr Boyce said.

“Steve said it was possible to milk cows twice-a-day twice-a-week and stimulate the udders enough and have similar production. The afternoon milkings rescue the udder tissue memory so it thinks it’s on twice-a-day.

“It fired me up. We had 14-a-week on twice-a-day, 7-a-week once-a-day or in the middle 3-in-2 was 10 and a half milkings a week. I had a lightbulb moment – could we do other formats such as 11-in-7 or 10-in-7 and fill in the gaps.”

Flexibility for cow health and farmer wealth

Mr Boyce wrote a paper on 10-in-7 milking, with Monday, Wednesday and Friday like normal twice-a-day, the other days at 10am.

“This taps into sport for young people or for going out on Friday and Saturday nights. The issue we have as an industry is we’re a 24-7 business in a weekend-based society. Dairy farming is a tough way to make a living and we need to become weekend centric. This way we have a life.”

Mr Boyce added: “10-in-7 has gone crazy and it’s gone around the world.” He believes any farm could easily make the adjustment by adopting a 48-hour feeding system.

“It’s all about the genetics – not the genetics of the cows, but the genetics of the people,” he said. “The cows are way more flexible than we are so we have to adjust ourselves. You can choose any milking regime.

“If you go 3-in-2 or 10-in-7 you will typically lose 5 per cent production compared to twice-a-day, but you’ll claw your costs down and you will end up with similar profitability and huge lifestyle benefits.

“You can work it to better capture pasture growth and peak milk and adjust things as you go.”

Mr Boyce doesn’t recommend going 10-in-7 if a farm has an issue with somatic cell count. “For those, I suggest 11-in-7, avoiding two days on the weekend of once-a-day,” he said.

Some NZ farmers on once-a-day milking have gone to 9-in-7 with significant increases to their average weekly production.

“I like to see farmers tailor their flexible milking regimes to certain times of the year and to what their cows are producing,” Mr Boyce said.

“It is quite popular in more pasture-based areas to go 10-in-7 from Christmas and then in mid-April to once-a-day and go to the end of the season like that.”

Mr Boyce encouraged farmers to think about their options.

“Adopt it and then adapt it for your system,” he said. “Maybe start with 11-in-7 and if you don’t like it or can’t figure it out, go back to twice-a-day. Nothing is broken, you haven’t destroyed the business.”

In an industry struggling to attract workers, Mr Boyce says flexibility is vital. “Where would I like to work if I was a young person coming into the business – a farm where I can get a sleep-in on the weekend.

“It means we have 470 milkings a year instead of 608. That means every fifth year is a free year for your shed’s lifespan, the cows are doing 130 less trips to the shed so they last longer, they’re in better health and their fertility is better.

“They’re doing almost the same production as twice-a-day with a lot less effort and cost.

10-in-7 flexible milking how and why does it work“I call it cow wellness. The cows and the people are better and at the end of it we’re making more money.”

While in Australia on the tour organised by LIC and supported by DemoDAIRY Foundation, Mr Boyce attended a Young Dairy Network forum in Terang and Colac and the group visited grazing operations at Branxholme, Tyrendarra, Mt Gambier and Colac.

Read about an Australian dairy farmer’s success with flexible milking

by Michelle Lamerton
International Marketing Coordinator
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