A change in milking regime makes life so much easier

Introducing a 10:7 milking regime each summer has saved Co. Waterford dairy farmer, Aidan Ahearne, 128 hours of work in the parlour. This change not only gives him more time with his family but also improves his overall lifestyle. Remarkably, these adjustments have not affected the solids production or income from his herd.

Aidan farms at Scart Dairy Farm near Dungarvan in partnership with his father Thomas and wife Lisa. He had been contemplating changing to a 10:7 milking regime as far back as 2018, during a drought. He had seen its effectiveness during a similar situation in New Zealand. 

At that time, the system was 16-hours between milkings, with late evening milkings – often around 6pm. However, subsequent research showed milking at consistent times each day was considerably more manageable for labour. Aidan welcomed the change, as he didn’t enjoy milking late at night.

Irish dairy farmer Aidan Ahearne with his crossbred herd says life is much easier with a 10:7 milking regime
Introducing a 10:7 milking regime each summer saves Co. Waterford dairy farmer, Aidan Ahearne, 128 hours of work in the parlour

Aidan’s 10:7 milking regime explained

Aidan first introduced 10:7 from the beginning of October to drying off in 2022, then again from July 15 to drying off in 2023. So, from early July, about three months into each cows’ lactation, he milks every Monday, Wednesday and Friday twice a day. These milkings are at 0630 and 1530. On Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, he milks once a day, usually around 0930 and sometimes a little earlier on a Sunday.

“That gives us almost a 24-hour break between Sunday and Monday, which provides more time to spend with family or to leave the farm, and also enjoy our hobbies,” he says.

“I’m very lucky as I have a full-time herdsman. But, if I was in the situation where I was working on my own and finding it hard to get labour, which is currently happening on a lot of farms in Ireland, I would say it’s a complete no brainer to make the switch to 10:7.”

While research indicates that a 10:7 milking regime can be maintained throughout the lactation, Aidan prioritises using sexed semen extensively on his herd. This approach allows him to produce 40 heifers or so, that he aims for as replacements each year and understands how important mating time is to get cows in-calf to first service.

“Perhaps I’m not quite brave enough to go all the way,” he says. “What I am doing now works well, and as we are, in the longer term, looking more closely at producing the right beef animals for the future, I need to be careful about making massive changes. It’s handy at the start to be doing two milkings a day as we can keep a close eye on when cows are ready for service.

“For us it’s a lifestyle thing. My herdsman Steven gets paid the same wage by going 10:7. He’s working less hours, but he’s getting paid the same. His contentment is important and so is mine. The weather was so bad last autumn but we didn’t get that milking fatigue you can get at the end of the year. We weren’t in there twice a day, every day, milking. 

“I’d say the couple of kilos dropped in milksolids is made-up for in reduced electricity, less chemical use, and stuff like that. In addition, the cows put on a bit more body condition and we had less lameness. At worst I’d say the switch was cost neutral.”

In New Zealand the dairy herd sizes are far bigger, so the number of cows per man is higher. Aidan says that, as herd sizes increase In Ireland, each person is having to manage more animals, and this, in turn, emphasises the need for a more manageable lifestyle.

“This is going to drive efficiencies, with farmers looking at ways to reduce labour and make units more sustainable. We also need to be sustainable for ourselves, ensuring that we don’t get burnt out.”

The milking regime change not only gives Aidan more time with his family but also improves his overall lifestyle
The milking regime change not only gives Aidan more time with his family but also improves his overall lifestyle

About the farm and herd

Aidan farms a total of 93 hectares, including 4.2 hectares in an out block. Of the total area, 16 hectares are leased. The farm consists entirely of grassland.

They currently milk 216 crossbred cows, primarily 50% Jersey and 50% Friesian. Each cow weighs approximately 500 kg. The goal is to achieve a yield of 500 kg milksolids per cow, aiming to match bodyweight with yield.

“In 2023, we produced 479 kg of milksolids, compared to 485 kg in 2022 and 484 kg in 2021. I believe the slight decrease this past year was mainly due to the exceptionally poor weather we experienced from September to November. I don’t think it had anything to do with the change in milking pattern.”

Aidan has been developing his herd of crossbred cows for many years now and says the best thing he would say about them is that they make an average farmer a good farmer because they’re so easy to work with.

He uses LIC semen almost exclusively, and is currently using Priests Solaris
(PSQ), Okura Integrity (OKT), Arrieta Nomad (APY), Priests Sierra (ZSP), Howses Springfield (FR6790), Glen Koru Epic (JE4509) and Werders Premonition (JEX143).

“Their temperament is good. They’re robust, and don’t get sick easily and you can manage them more easily. Put them out in the field in foul weather and they just go and put their heads down and graze. I find they’re an easy cow to look after, they’re fertile and have good feet.”

The farm’s calving start date target is the 1st of February, with the aim of getting 90% calved in the first six weeks. “We haven’t achieved that yet, but we’re close,” he says. “Two years ago, we were at 88%, last year at 86%, so we’re close or thereabouts.

“We give the first calvers at least a 12-week dry period, drying them off in November. The rest of the cows get at least eight weeks dry. Last year we had the herd
dry by 16th December, so we’re dry for Christmas and most of January.

“Once the cows have calved, weather permitting, we get them straight out to grass, day and night. They get fed around 3kg of meal and we’ll keep them on maybe 3 to 4kg up until April and then, as the grass growth increases, we cut that down. The target is to feed maybe 700 kg of meal.”

The goal for silage is to provide 1.2 tonnes of dry matter per cow. This involves cutting 45% of the farm for the first round and 30% for the second. Aidan also utilises red clover in the out block sward, cutting it three to four times to produce large round bales of high-quality silage for buffer feeding. This silage is typically fed in the autumn as needed.

Reflecting on his decision to switch to a 10:7 milking schedule in 2018, Aidan is steadfast in his belief that it was a wise move. He asserts that the new milking pattern has significantly eased his workload without any negative impact on productivity or profitability.

“I would thoroughly recommend it,” he affirms. “It has made things much easier here, and I have no regrets at all.”

by Michelle Lamerton
International Marketing Coordinator
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