This depends on a number of factors, including:
- Size of cowshed
- Walking distance
- Stocking rate
- Breed of cow
- Feed inputs
- Cow management
Other things to consider around the use of OAD milking is whether it is used for the full season, part season, or for tactical reasons at the start of the season, or for pressure periods such as mating and if it is for the whole herd or for just the younger cows.
Farmers need to consider whether the savings in labour, power and (potential) mating intervention will offset any potential drop in production, especially during any transition period.
Remember that all farms and farmers are different and will have different goals that they are working toward. So this is not a ‘one size fits all’ scenario but more of a discussion of what may be suitable on farm.
Size of cowshed: This can be relevant when farms have expanded but the facilities have not. For example, 400 cows through a 20 AS cowshed = 20 rows and subsequently a long milking. Options here would include one long milking or 2 herds OAD, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.
- Walking distance:
For farms with long walks, a consideration to at least have one herd on OAD would be worthwhile. In this instance, a young herd could be used to graze the back area of the farm whilst the more productive cows get the easier country (more return on feeding investment).
As per the first discussion point, one person will be more inclined to milk more cows if it was on an OAD basis, especially if good labour was hard to find. An example of this was from a client who saved the cost of a labour unit and was then able to rent out the farm house for a good return as well. This is also a good way of managing hours worked for farm staff.
An important consideration for people with families watching their children playing sport, or for younger farmers playing sport or having time to be with friends. This is especially relevant for weekends and would be an effective way of retaining staff.
- Stocking rate:
Some of the early OAD research focused on increasing the stocking rate on farm so that production per hectare was similar as a 2AD system. This accounted for the potential drop in production per cow. This would depend on the system already in place. For example, a lower stocking rate may reduce the reliance on brought in feeds and may actually increase profitability. Increasing the stocking rate may also increase the pressure and cost for wintering cows and this must be accounted for in any discussion.
- Breed of cow:
Early research indicated that a Jersey cow may be better than a Friesian for a full season OAD cow due to its lower milk volume. Whilst there may be some truth in that there are still many full time OAD Friesian herds. However in any new system there will be some wastage as some cows regardless of breed will struggle to cope with a new system of milking frequency.
- Feed inputs:
I have touched on this subject as it is regarded that a OAD cow will probably eat about 10% less than a 2AD animal and potentially will have more condition score to use in times of feed stress.
- Cow management:
This includes things such as somatic cell counts (SCC). which must be in control before considering any change in milking frequency, Mating management with OAD being used to take the pressure of cows (and hopefully increasing in calf rates) and length of lactation which can be increased if condition score loss is less than that of a 2AD cow.
So, in summary, circumstances and pressures are different on every farm, including staff availability and suitability, facilities, and even pressure from the banks regarding production targets.
Each farm needs to find the solution that is right for them and any transition period may include some wastage of stock if they are unable to adapt. That is why the use of full time OAD herds on larger properties may be a good starting point with many farmers. Certainly on my client’s farms we have reduced feed inputs and achieved better mating results from this practice.
For smaller herds it may be worthwhile looking at this option for the summer/autumn period to build up confidence before any full time change occurs.
If used properly OAD will take pressure of farms, farmers and more importantly stock.
Is it time for you to give it a go?