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Farm advice: Are we getting more efficient with milking?

Milking is the task requiring the greatest labour on-farm, so, it’s not surprising that milking efficiency continues to be a popular topic, especially for farmers who aren’t in a position to replace staff

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Dr Paul Edwards

Fonterra’s installation of milk vat monitoring systems, operative from 2020/21, has provided a rich dataset to benchmark milking efficiency. Previous research into this data has shown there’s a lot of variation between farms and, therefore, a significant opportunity to be more efficient. The latest data, from the 2022/23 season, was no exception.

If we look at the month of peak production and define milking as the start to the end of milk flow into the vat, we can see noticeable increases in efficiency (Table 1) between 21/22 and 22/23. Two statistics stand out:

  • The percentage of farms achieving 80% of their maximum potential jumped by about 20 percentage points.
  • The average number of cows milked per hour rose by 18. These improvements are a result of actual change on-farm because there was relatively little change in herd size, number of clusters or milk yield between these years.

Overall, since 20/21, there has been a saving of more than 30 to 45 minutes of average milking time each day. However, as a sector, there are still opportunities to improve. For those not at 80% of their potential, there’s an average of eight hours per week saving to be gained.

We’ve estimated this time saving based on the farm using a maximum milking time (MaxT – dairynz.co.nz/maxt), but there are other low-cost options to improve efficiency. These include adjusting pulsation ratio, liner selection, cluster attachment techniques, backing gate management, technology use and dairy design.

For more information and practical advice, visit dairynz.co.nz/efficient-milking or dairynz.co.nz/milking-duration.

To benchmark your milking efficiency, download the Milksmart app from the Apple or Google Play Store.

Table 1. Key milking statistics calculated from Fonterra milk vat monitoring data for three seasons (averaged across all farms with data for their month of peak milk)

Season 20/21 21/22 22/23
Herringbone      
% of farms 67 69 68
Average number of clusters (N) 29 29 29
Average milk yield (kg/cow) 20.7 20.4 19.8
% above 80% efficiency 27 36 57
Average cows milker per hour 153 156 174
Average milking time (hours/day) 4.1 3.9 3.5
Average litres/cluster/hour 59 61

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Rotary  20/21  21/22  22/23
% of farm 33 31 32
Average number of clusters (N) 50 50 50
Average milk yield (kg/cow) 22.1 21.8 21.6
% above 80% efficiency 11 17 35
Average cows milker per hour 235 242 261
Average milking time (hours/day) 5.6 5.2 4.8
Average litres/cluster/hour 53 55 59

Big variation in performance

The number of litres harvested per cluster per hour is the fairest metric to benchmark across farms. While more difficult to visualise than cows milked per hour, it considers variation in the level of production and shed size.

This figure illustrates the range in performance, high level of milking efficiency being achieved in some of the smaller herringbones, and sizeable opportunity to lift performance for others.

Milking effeciency graph.jpg

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