Once a day: At last week’s once-a-day milking conference, Teagasc researcher Emer Kennedy outlined the fairly negligible impacts on lactation yield from milking cows once a day during the first few weeks after calving.

Over 35 weeks (245 days), there was just a 10kg MS/cow or 2.4% difference in total milk solids yield between cows milked twice a day all season and those milked once a day for the first four weeks.

There were slightly higher differences between those milked once a day for six and eight weeks. The effect on farm level will be even less as only cows that calve on the first day of calving will actually be milked once a day for the full duration of the once-a-day period.

For me, this indicates that milking once a day for the first three or four weeks is a viable option for most farmers. It will reduce the workload during an already busy time of year when calving rate is at its peak.

Calving: Even farms not due to start calving for another two weeks can expect to see a few surprise deliveries over the next week to 10 days. Are you and the farm prepared?

Some farmers will bed all the calf pens with straw now, even those that won’t be needed until the second half of February as it is one less job to be done when things are busy.

The following is a checklist of things to be done in advance of calving:

  • Train heifers to the milking parlour by walking them through it and getting them used to the surroundings.
  • Have calf tags and taggers ready for use.
  • Check that the farm fridge/freezer is working correctly. This should be used to store colostrum prior to feeding and BVD samples prior to posting along with vaccines. It is a very important machine on the farm.
  • Wash and disinfect all buckets and feeders. Replace teats on feeders and replace tubes on stomach feeders as these can harbour bad bacteria.
  • Group cows according to calving date, with those to calve first nearest the calving pen and vice versa.
  • Order in parlour chemicals, teat spray, marking spray, udder cream and ointment to have in stock.
  • Replace any missing tags on cows and youngstock. Arrange to have maiden heifers freeze-branded.
  • Walk the farm and repair any damaged fences prior to start of calving. Check the current and have the farm set up for cows to go out grazing. Failure to do this before calving will likely delay turnout as you won’t have time to be away from the yard fencing during calving.
  • Cashflow: While higher milk prices improved dairy profits in 2021, there could be a squeeze on cash this year.

    Higher fertiliser prices and upfront payment to secure delivery along with much higher tax bills will affect cashflow in 2022. Milk price is higher now than it was this time last year, which is obviously a big help but it’s important that every farmer does a cashflow budget for 2022. Fertiliser costs are looking like they will be double what they were last year and feed costs will be up too.

    Knowing what’s coming and having a plan in place to deal with it is essential.