A dull, wet spring has clouded the results of a move to a variable milking regime of 10 in 7 at Lincoln University Dairy Farm. Anne Lee reports.

A tough first half of the season is making it difficult to see just what the effects of moving to a 10 milkings in seven days milking regime have been to date on cows and production at the Lincoln University Dairy Farm.

Farm manager Peter Hancox says the dull, grey days through October and November and wet weather then, has had an impact on pasture growth, making it difficult to get away from faster rounds (18-20 days) right through to late January.

He’d expected slightly less demand from the 3.5 cows/ha due to the variable milking regime but says if that’s happened it hasn’t shown up in feed availability with silage being fed through much of January.

By late January milk production was down about 7% compared with last season.

LUDF farm consultant Jeremy Savage from Macfarlane Rural Business says based on DairyNZ’s variable milking research the farm had budgeted for a drop in production of 5% by the end of the season.

“Given Canterbury has been running about 3-4% down we think we’re not doing too badly,” he says.

Spring had been good with cow condition at the end of spring up compared to previous years by about 0.3 body condition score (BCS).

But the lack of energy in pasture through October and early November had seen BCS drop during the mating period to as low as 4.4.

Early scan results showed a six-week in-calf rate of 68% which was disappointing given the three-week conception rate had been above 60% and 100% submission rate by day 23 of mating, Peter says.

“We had a lot of cows in calf by three weeks and then we had a lot of long returns,” he says.

“We will be carrying on with variable milking next season so we want to see if there is a cumulative effect on cow condition and if that’s reflected in reproductive performance over time,” Jeremy says. Mastitis and lameness numbers had been lower over spring but in November numbers had risen following a bout of wet weather.

“So again we’re seeing a seasonal impact we think and it’s hard to say if the 10 in 7 lessened that impact,” Jeremy says.

It has had an effect though on people with fewer staff employed and work hours reduced.

Typically, the 560-cow farm ran with four, full-time staff on an eight days on, two days off, eight days on, three days off roster (8,2,8,3).

This season it has had two permanent staff plus casuals through spring and currently three full-time staff, working on a five on, two off roster.

Jeremy says farming is facing a strong inflationary environment with labour costs rising more than 5%, nitrogen more than doubling and winter grazing prices rising again this season after year-on-year increases.

“Variable milking may help make our businesses more resilient to that with savings in labour and, if we can get improved BCS in autumn, we should be able to save on winter grazing costs.

“What we’d hope to see is that BCS improvement reflected in our in-calf rates and a drop in our replacement rates too given a heifer costs $1740 to get to the in-calf heifer point.

“What’s good is that we’re seeing 10 in 7 effecting some of those key costs where we’re coming under pressure this year.”

LUDF has its own website – check it out www.ludf.org.nz