Less volume, higher solids...Once-a-day milking looks good for marginal dairy climates

by Allan Nation

DEVIZES, England: Not all of England is always a "green and verdant land." With only 19 to 26 inches of rain, the Wiltshire area has traditionally been considered wheat and barley country. However, Jerry and Carol Rider are proving that a little unconventional thinking can turn marginal climates into profitable grass dairying country. The "unconventional thinking" in the Rider's case is once-a-day milking.

Rider, a past president of the British Grasslands Society and an avowed "grass nut," said he became aware of New Zealand's research into once-a-day milking and its benefits in marginal grass growing areas several years ago. He said that despite a zero level of support for the idea in the UK he decided he would have to try it. Today, he said he would never go back to twice-a-day milking.

Yes, he admits milk volume falls. In his case it fell on average by 23% from around 14,000 lbs per cow to 11,780 per cow. However, this decline in volume has been more than offset by a rise in milk solids and protein and a tremendous decrease in feed costs.

The milk from Rider's 500 cows has an average butterfat of 4.9% and a protein content of 3.8%. Feed costs per cwt of milk are down to only $1.25 cwt. Net return over land rent is 63% of gross sales. Rider's milk price in May was $12.50 cwt milk. He said once-a-day milking works best with low volume/high solid breeds with large milk reservoirs. Rider's herd is currently made up of New Zealand Friesians but the genetic direction is to crossbred Friesian/Jerseys and probably to all New Zealand Jersey. He really likes the aggressive grazing habit that comes with New Zealand genetics and the selection for solids against fluid volume.

The only problem he has had with the Friesians is with first calf heifers who have not developed enough milk holding capacity. There have been no problems with second calf cows and there has been no measurable increase in somatic cell count or mastitis.


Feed cost savings have been dramatic. He has cut his level of concentrate feeding from 2200 lbs per cow per year to only 264 lbs of rolled wheat per cow per year at a stocking rate of 1.25 cows per acre (3 cows per hectare).

"Once-a-day milking allows you to graze your paddocks a little tighter as pasture quality is not so critical. It lowers production per cow but greatly increases production per hectare.

Rider said he is producing 1000 kgs of milk solids per hectare (917 lbs per acre). Such high per acre production is important in England where land rents are high ($70 to $110 per acre). Rider pays a premium $150 per acre for his pasture (this includes all buildings as well) because he wanted a large square block of land and a landlord willing to build a milking parlor at its center. (The landlord builds the building. The tenant provides all the milking machinery.)

The milking parlor is a high through-put, New Zealand-style rotary. The dairy has one milker who puts the cups on and Jerry's son, John, takes them off. The cows are milked at six AM to take advantage of the cheapest electric rates. Jerry said it was critical that a good milking machine be used and that the cows be completely milked out at each milking.

Cow fertility has also risen with the once-a-day milking. First service conception rate on mature cows has gone from 55% to 65%. All breeding is done A-I.

Heifer development is done on another farm. He is seeing a big jump in cow fertility in the crossbred replacements. First service conception rates on the Friesian/Jersey crosses were 65% with an overall rate of 100%.

He said calving starts in February and lasts for 12 weeks. Enough grass is carried over from the previous fall to allow the cows one hour of grazing per day. The rest of the feed is grass silage supplemented with 5 pounds of rolled wheat per day. He said that due to potential severe pugging in the wet spring it is important that the cows always be hungry when turned out to graze.

He said grass growth is measured and a grass feed budget is prepared every week. He called the point where grass growth exceeded need as the "magic day."

Perennial and Italian ryegrasses are used with various maturity dates. The primary ryegrass is a very late flowering ryegrass from Northern Ireland. Due to relatively mild winters, all perennial ryegrasses used are non-winter dormant. The pasture is sown with white clover to keep summer quality high and to reduce nitrogen needs.

50 pounds of nitrogen are applied in the spring and an additional 60 pounds in the fall. This is approximately one third the normal recommended N rate in the UK and Ireland. Rider said he can do this because he needs so little grass silage to get through the winter. "Why make more grass than you need? Let the clover do the work," he said.

Due to the extremely dry summer, summer grass needs are mostly from grass grown and stockpiled in the spring. Rider said it is very difficult to keep some of this stockpiled grass from going to seed. He has found that if he mows this mature grass prior to turning the cows into the paddock the slight wilting will raise the sugar content of the grass and the cows will readily clean it up.


The Rider farm has no permanent paddocks and temporary electric fencing is used exclusively. This allows machinery access so excess spring grass can be easily chopped for silage. The cows only shift paddocks once a day. These shifts are always made in the afternoon around 4 PM when the grass' sugar content is the highest. Normal paddock subdivision size is 58 acres (24 hectares) and all cows are grazed as one 500 cow unit. Each temporary paddock is so built to contain one large stock waterer.

A well-built laneway runs down one side of the farm. The lane is 12 feet wide and crowned so that it will not hold water. Jerry walks on all of his new lanes barefoot to determine if the limestone surface-covering is fine enough to prevent cow lameness. He said the lanes must be wide enough to allow the cows to walk three abreast. Maximum walk to milking is kept to one mile.

With the dry summer conditions unsuited to corn (maize) production, Rider grows wheat for his cows' grain needs. He combines this wheat at 28% moisture, rolls it and puts it in a silage clamp. He allows the green straw from this wheat to dry and then bales it. This immature wheat straw hay then provides most of his dry cow feed needs and greatly cuts down on his need for grass silage.

Rider said there are lots of advantages of locating a dairy in an arable farming region. One, larger farms are available to rent long-term. Two, byproduct feeds and cheap out-of-season short-term land rentals are available. And three, there is plenty of machinery available on neighboring farms. All arable machinery on the Rider farm has been sold.

The cows are dried off in November or before if the cows reach a body condition score of 3.5. Once the cows are dry the cows are taken to fatten on forage turnips grown behind barley on neighbors' arable fields. "Our silage clamp is (the fat) on our cows' backs," Rider said.

The cows are brought inside at Christmas and are bedded on small grain straw provided by his arable farming neighbors in return for the cows' manure. Rider said the once-a-day scheme would be ideal for graziers looking at on-farm cheese and butter manufacturing. It also offers a viable offset to climates that are too dry or hot for traditional high volume, Holstein dairying.

"I've found weather difficulties are 95% state of mind and only 5% climate," Jerry Rider said. "If you really want to make something work, you usually can."


Copyright 2011 Stockman Grass Farmer | All rights reserved.