Is three-times-a-day milking for you?

Three times per day milking may increase net revenue for dairy producers.

Unfortunately, dairy farming seems to be a “boom”or “bust” proposition. Our dairy industry went through a very difficult “bust”period for most of 2009. Due to plummeting milk prices and rising productioncosts, dairy producers across the state were struggling to make ends meet. Producerswere desperate to cut costs, increase income and shore up shrinking margins. Inthe April 2009 Michigan Dairy Review I addressed this situation in the article entitled, “Weathering the Storm”. One strategy cited was switching from twice-a-day (2X) to three-times-a-day (3X) milking.  To determine if 3X milking is a viable option for your farm, consider these pros and cons.

Pros

  1. A summary of 19 research studies indicates that, regardless of milk yield for2X milking, cows milked three times a day will increase daily milk production from 6.8 to 8.6 pounds/cow per day with a 95% confidence level. The averageincrease in this report was 7.7 pounds/cow per day.
  2. Even though percentage of components (butterfat and protein) usually declined slightlyon 3X milking, overall production of components increased (+0.2 pounds/cow perday for butterfat;  +0.18 pounds/cow perday for protein).
  3. Anecdotal reports also suggest improvements in udder health indicated by lower SCC’s, overall health and sometimes even reproductive performance.
  4. Hence,3X milking offers an opportunity for increased milk revenue via increased yields for milk and milk solids, and potentially lower SCC’s.
  5. Three times a day milking also offers an opportunity to more effectively and efficiently utilize milking facilities if extra capacity is available.

Cons

  1. Milking three times a day requires adequate milking facility capacity and may not be feasible if factors are present that may limit the ability of cows to respond with higher milk production (e.g. poor feed quality, limited feed bunk space,environmental stress, excessive wait time in holding pens, long travel distances to and from milking facility, etc.).
  2. Milking 3X requires an adequate supply of well-trained and motivated labor willing tomilk cows at often undesirable times of the day.
  3. Milking 3X requires an increased level of management to insure cows are fed properly and that any less-than-favorable health issues (e.g. lameness, mastitis) are not exacerbated by the increased intensity of production.
  4. Cows milked 3X will require more intensive management to insure adequate feed intake and maintenance of proper body condition.
  5. Milking 3X requires a commitment of at least six months and a monitoring program todetermine if it is successful.

Reminder: Marginal Costs Versus Marginal Returns

When making the decision whether or not to switch to 3X milking, be sure to consider more than just the potential increase in milk revenue. Three-times-a-day milking will also produce increased costs. Milking 3X obviously increases labor and feed costs, but other costs will also rise such as electricity (to run parlor and cool extra milk produced) and livestock marketing (e.g. milk hauling, promotion fees, milk cooperative dues, etc.). One should also consider increases in other less tangible costs, for example,increased management time and intensity.

When one considers all the relevant factors,switching from 2X to 3X is not a trivial and easy decision. All the aforementioned factors, plus the milk price, need to be considered. I have developed a simple spreadsheet decision aid for this purpose. The spreadsheet allows you to specify changes in the cost and usage of purchased and homegrown feeds, livestock marketing expenses, hired labor expenses, utility expenses and other expenses (Table 1). It also allows you to adjust feed costs for shrink. This is quite important! We tend to only think in terms of actual cow feed intake rather than the total feed used (including shrink) to get that intake. The model then produces two tables based on milk price ($6/cwt range, $0.50/cwt increments,user chooses range) and daily 3X production response (2-9 pounds/cow). One table shows the gain/loss in daily marginal revenue (per 100 milking cows)(Table 2)and the other the same information on an annual basis (Table 3).

Based on the default inputs, 3X milking does not produce a profit at any level of production response until milk prices exceed$10/cwt. From a practical perspective, switching to 3X is probably not worth the trouble unless milk price exceeds $12/cwt at lower production responses or production response exceeds 5 or 6 pounds/cow per day at $11/cwt milk price. The most important thing is to plug your numbers into the model and then determine if and when 3X is feasible on your operation. If you would like a copy of the spreadsheet model send me .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or go to my website.

 

 

Table 2: 3X Total Daily Profit/Loss Margin (per 100 cows)

 

3X Production Response (lbs/cow/day)

Mailbox Milk Price

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

$9.00

($2.41)

($3.61)

($4.81)

($6.02)

($7.22)

($8.42)

($9.62)

($10.83)

 $9.50

($1.41)

($2.11)

($2.81)

($3.52)

($4.22)

($4.92)

($5.62)

($6.33)

 $10.00

($0.41)

($0.61)

($0.81)

($1.02)

($1.22)

($1.42)

($1.62)

($1.83)

 $10.50

$0.59

$0.89

$1.19

$1.49

$1.78

$2.08

$2.38

$2.67

 $11.00

$1.59

$2.39

$3.19

$3.99

$4.78

$5.58

$6.38

$7.17

 $11.50

$2.59

$3.89

$5.19

$6.49

 $7.78

$9.08

$10.38

$11.67

 $12.00

$3.59

$5.39

$7.19

$8.99

$10.78

$12.58

$14.38

$16.17

 $12.50

$4.59

$6.89

$9.19

$11.49

$13.78

$16.08

$18.38

$20.67

 $13.00

 $5.59

 $8.39

 $11.19

 $13.99

 $16.78

 $19.58

 $22.38

 $25.17

 $13.50

 $6.59

 $9.89

 $13.19

 $16.49

 $19.78

 $23.08

 $26.38

 $29.67

 $14.00

$7.59

$11.39

$15.19

$18.99

$22.78

$26.58

$30.38

$34.17

 $14.50

$8.59

$12.89

$17.19

$21.49

$25.78

$30.08

$34.38

$38.67

 $15.00

$9.59

$14.39

$19.19

$23.99

$28.78

$33.58

$38.38

$41.17

 

Table 3: 3X Total Annual Profit/Loss Margin (per 100 cows)

 

3X Production Responses (lbs/cow/day)

Mailbox Milk Price

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

$9.00

($878)

($1,317)

($1,756)

($2,195)

($2,635)

($3,074)

($3,513)

($3,952)

 $9.50

($513)

($770)

($1,026)

($1,283)

($1,540)

($1,796)

($2,053)

($2,309)

 $10.00

($148)

($222)

($296)

($370)

($445)

($519)

($593)

($667)

 $10.50

$217

 $325

$434

$542

$650

$759

$867

$976

 $11.00

$582

$873

$1,164

$1,455

$1,745

$2,036

$2,327

$2,618

 $11.50

$947

$1,420

$1,894

$2,367

$2,840

$3,314

$3,787

$4,261

 $12.00

$1,312

$1,968

$2,624

$3,280

$3,935

$4,591

$5,247

$5,903

 $12.50

$1,677

$2,515

$3,354

$4,192

$5,030

$5,869

$6,707

$7,546

 $13.00

$2,042

$3,063

$4,084

$5,105

$6,125

$7,146

$8,167

$9,188

 $13.50

$2,407

$3,610

$4,814

$6,017

$7,220

$8,424

$9,627

$10,831

 $14.00

$2,772

$4,158

$5,544

$6,930

$8,315

$9,701

$11,087

$12,473

 $14.50

$3,137

$4,705

$6,274

$7,842

$9,410

$10,979

$12,547

$14,116

 $15.00

$3,502

$5,253

$7,004

$8,755

$10,505

$12,256

$14,007

$15,75

References

Erdman, R.A. and M. Varner. 1995. Fixedyield responses to increased milking frequency. J. Dairy Sci.78(5):1199-1203.

Thomas, C. V. 2009. Weathering theStorm. MichiganDairy Review, Vol. 14, No. 2; p. 1.