Once a Day Milking – a Viable Option for Quality of Life

Think about it, 75-80% of the milk for about half the labor, half the chemicals, half the grain, AND evenings (or mornings) with a few extra hours of “free” time. Once a day milking (OAD), as opposed to the more conventional twice a day (TAD), is a popular option in several other countries as a way to improve working conditions for farmers. When milk stays in

Milking can be an enjoyable time, especially for observers
Milking can be an enjoyable time, especially for observers

the udder for 24 hours, though, there are some management concerns that must be addressed. Let’s take a look at why OAD might be a good choice, some of the drawbacks, and some of the surprising benefits. First, let me tell you what drove us (or led us) to give it a try.

I had written about the option of milking OAD in my first book, The Farmstead Creamery Advisor. I knew of two commercial dairy farmers, one with cows and one with goats, that only milked one time a day. The former as a way to make up for the lack of extra labor to do these tasks while the farmer was at market during evening milking hours, and the latter as a way to ensure time spent with young children and family. I read about this option in a French dairying document and while in Argentina, learned that many farmers there were intentionally selecting for and breeding cows that did well being milked OAD. I was tempted to give it a try, but as our herd of Nigerian Dwarf goats has been on official milk testing, through Dairy Herd Improvement, for the last 10 or more years, I was very nervous about potentially ruining their records. It also felt very “naughty”.

Then our youngest daughter Amelia, my cohort in goats and barn slave, moved out. Reality check! I was trying to finish writing a third book (about small dairying) and found myself doing far more chores than ever before. Since I am always preaching to cheesemakers and dairy folks about making choices that sustain your both your livelihood and lifestyle (translated not wanting to run away from the farm or divorce your spouse), I realized we needed to give it a try.

What do the Experts Say?

SCC and Mastitis: The first question that people usually ask, is doesn’t once a day milking lead to mastitis? The data says that most animals experience an initial increase in somatic cell count (SCC) but it does not correlate with an increase in mastitis causing organisms within the udder. The initial increase is followed by a decrease in SCC, but usually it stays more elevated than on twice a day milking. (Our experience has had different results). For cows that might already have a low grade udder infection (subclinical mastitis) there is an increased likelihood that once a day milking will lead to acute mastitis. This makes sense, since milking more frequently is one of the best treatments for an udder infection – an empty udder helps “starve out” the invading microbes. Increased SCC alone, does not indicate mastitis. So if you are planning on trying this technique, you should closely monitor SCC’s before switching and after.

Udder with large storage capacity - at start of milking
Udder with large storage capacity – at start of milking

Volume and Components: The research (you can read two articles whose links I have provided below) indicates that production dropped by an average of 15-20% depending upon the animal breed, age, and stage of lactation. In most of the studies, cows held their production levels best, when milked TAD until the peak of their lactation was reached. (For most goats this is at 100 or so days, but for Nigerian Dwarf goats, more like 60 days into the lactation) Interestingly, udder anatomy also played a role. Cows (and in our herd so far goats too) with a larger cistern, that’s the animals own milk bulk tank, were able to maintain good production levels – especially when compared to those with udders made up of more productive tissue and a smaller cistern. In the data, Holsteins typically had more productive tissue and smaller cisterns than cows such as Jerseys. But no matter what the breed, selective breeding for this characteristic can accomplish the desired udder type.  See the photos for an example of one of our two LaMancha does with large cistern capacity. (Indeed, her milk production has increased on 1x a day milking).

In the studies, milk components – butterfat and protein – increased, potentially meaning an increase in cheese yield for cheesemakers. But enzymes also increase, which could lead to shorter shelf life for fluid milk and coagulation or aging

At the end of milking the entire udder is empty and the cistern area is quite visible
At the end of milking the entire udder is empty and the cistern area is quite visible

changes for cheese. I could not find information that delved into this aspect. The cheesemakers I know that milk OAD do not seem to have any issues.

Feed Usage and Body Condition: Grain consumption, if fed at milking time only, can decrease by half and dry matter intake (hay and forage) decreases as well. In general, cows body condition scores improved and a side effect of lower rates of hoof and leg problems resulted.

Our Experience

The first night, boy did I feel like I was slacking off. I also expected the goats to be a little peeved, but no one seemed to have any issues. For the next two – three mornings, the two higher producers had tight udders and one dripped a little milk. After a few days, their production adjusted itself to simply just a full udder. Total milk production for a 24 hour period fell from 12 gallons to 7.5 and then after 6 weeks, came back up to 8.  As of this writing, we are about 10 weeks into the experiment, and production varies between 7.25 – 8 gallons a day. This is amazing to me, as by now many of the does should be dropping a bit and we had four does that had been in milk for about 18 months, and I expected these to start drying off, but they are holding pretty well. Nigerian Dwarfs tend to peak much earlier than standard breed does, so this factors into our lower numbers as well. I am paying close attention to the does that are holding their volume the best.

After four weeks we had our first DHI milk test. The results reflected what the research shows, components go up as do somatic cell counts (SCC). Aha! you say, mastitis will be a problem.   Our increase – to a herd average of 282,000 for the Nigerians and 500,000 for the LaMancha and Lagerians (our Lamancha Nigerian crosses) was still well within our year round normal. Components went way up as well, almost a full 2% for fat and 1% for protein. During this time our cheese yield increased from our normal (for our hard, aged cheeses) of about 14% (on our hard cheeses) to 16%. (If making it just with Nigerian milk, the yield was 17.5%). So the usual 20 gallons of milk produced 3 or 4 more pounds of cheese (from 23.8 pounds to 27.2 pounds).  If we had been milking twice a day, there would have been about 25 gallons of milk which would have yielded (at 14% yield) 30 pounds of cheese. So only about 3 pounds less cheese for a lot less work, feed, and chemicals.

After eight weeks we had our 2nd DHI test. Interestingly, components and SCC all went back to normal, but total herd production held, thanks to the high producing LaMancha and crosses. During test week, we were having a heat wave of all the days over 100F, so I am hoping that was what affected components, as they just don’t spend as much time browsing when the weather is so severe.

Here are the test day herd numbers comparing one year to the next:

June 2012, Twice a day milking: Nigerians: Milk = 2.8 pounds, Fat = 5.92%, Protein = 4.20 %, SCC = 134,000

July 2012, Twice a day milking: Nigerians: milk=2.6 pounds, fat = 6.2%, protein 4.00%, SCC 76,000

June 2013, Once a day milking, Nigerians: Milk = 2.1 pounds, Fat = 7.4%, Protein = 4.26 %, SCC = 282,000

July 2013, Once a day milking: Nigerians: milk = 1.6 pounds, Fat = 5.83  , Protein 4.46 %, SCC = 86,000 (Note temperatures were over 100F during the days surrounding this milk test)

Here are how some of our better milkers are holding up:

Brown Sugar (2nd freshening 2 year old ND) May TAD: 3.1 pounds, June OAD: 2.7 pounds, July OAD: 2.7 pounds

Cocoa (first freshening yearling ND) May TAD: 2.8 pounds, June OAD: 2.6 pounds, July OAD 2.0 pounds

Prudence (first freshening, but extended lactation 50:50 Nigerian LaMancha) May TAD: 3.5 pounds, June OAD 4.6 pounds, July OAD 3.5 pounds

Wanda (2nd freshening 2 year old LaMancha) May TAD, 9.2 pounds, June OAD 8.9 pounds, July OAD 9.3 pounds . (This is the doe whose udder shots are above)

I will definitely update this post once our August test is complete. For now, most of the doe’s production has lowered, but we didn’t  have any does in 2012 that were on extended lactations, that really has to make a difference. The purebred LaManchas and Lamancha crosses are doing better than most of the Nigerian Dwarfs, no surprise there, either. But I believe I can improve upon these numbers by paying close attention to the does who can sustain it well – as we already do by testing how they do with extended lactations, and then choosing those genetics.

Stay tuned!

Update: 9/15/13 – Just found this research paper on high producing Alpine Goats on once a day milking. really great! http://www.journalofdairyscience.org/article/S0022-0302(09)70879-3/fulltext

http://www.cowtime.com.au/edit/QuickNotes/QUICKNOTE_1.4_VERSION_3.PDF

http://www.dairynz.co.nz/file/fileid/27389