Timboon dairy farmer Mike Jamieson has reached a stage in life where milk production isn't the only thing driving his operation.
Mike has started using extended milking intervals to free up more time for other jobs and will persist with the system next season - with a few moderations.
The DemoDAIRY Foundation has been investigating the potential for south-west Victorian dairy farmers to use extended milking intervals (EMI) and the system is starting to gain traction.
Mike is one of at least five south-west Victorian dairy farmers now using various incarnations of EMIs.
Mike introduced 10-in-seven-days milking at the start of December last year but this coming season he plans to use 11-seven and start earlier.
He's learnt a few things along the way and is confident the EMI system will have long-term advantages.
"I'd researched it and watched webinars from Ireland and New Zealand and felt that if managed properly you could still get as much production, particularly as milk production was sliding down," he said.
"I wouldn't do 10-seven or 11-seven in peak production but our milk in November was starting to come back a bit as the grass wasn't as lush."
Mike's driving motivation was better use of time.
"I have a staff member on 38 hours a week and most of that is taken up with milking," he said.
"If he's not doing a few milkings a week, that will free him up to do other jobs around the farm such as fencing or spraying that I was having to do myself."
His system involved milking twice a day, Monday, Wednesday and Friday and once a day on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.
The commonly used times in New Zealand are around 8-8.30am Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday and to bridge the gap around 11-11.30am on Saturday, but that meant finishing in the middle of the day so Mike bought it forward to about 10am.
"You need to average the gap to about 20 but we were doing 17 and 22," he said.
"There are plenty who have been milking three-in-two for years.
"I'd hate in the summer time to be milking in the middle of the day, though milking seven nights a week when it's hot is not much fun."
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The initial change to 10-seven went smoothly but Mike soon realised he needed to make a few adjustments.
"I was feeding 28 kilograms of grain a week so for a start I just pushed the button 10 times instead of 14 so we were back to about 20kg a week," he said.
He now realises that was a mistake.
"I should have continued to feed 28kg and divide it by 10, or continued to feed 14 times; in the future I'll average the feed out and keep the same level."
There was a slight dip in production, but not enough to deter Mike from returning to the flexible system.
"It was hard to put a finger on the reason for the drop - whether it was because I hadn't made allowances for the drop in grain or whether at that time the grass was going from green and lush to harder and drier," he said.
Initially health was good and cell count remained the same, but a few cases of clinical mastitis soon started to break through, which could have been aggravated by a problem with inflations.
"In my experience, as it became drier and I had to go to supplementary feed, we'd find the odd cow with mastitis," Mike said.
"Next year, I'm hoping to eliminate a lot of that by going 11-seven and starting earlier."
For 2022-23 he plans Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday 8-8.30am, the rest twice a week.
He will start somewhere between mid-October and November 1.
"When I changed, at the same time the grass was going from lush to woody; you don't want to bombard them with too many changes at the same time," he said.
He will also maintain the same grain input.
Mike will dry off the first of his cows from February 18 and start calving on April 20.
The fresh cows will be milked 10-7 in April and from May 1 he will return to twice a day, every day until late spring.
He milks 240 Jersey-Holstein crossbreds but isn't confident enough at this stage to say he will maintain the peak 27 litres and high components output during 10-7, but he has seen plenty in New Zealand who have achieved the same production.
But production is not his only influence.
"When you're younger, you're looking for every kilo, but now in my mid-50s, production isn't the be-all and end-all," he said.
"I need other jobs done and was having to do it myself, or the business was having to pay overtime. In this system, my employee gets two-three milkings off so there's another six to nine hours work that can be put in on the farm somewhere else."
The system is working well for other south-west farmers.
Garvoc's Josh Philp introduced 10-seven milking last November and while his cows are now drying off, he plans to return to and extend the system.
"I did a fair bit of reading about it out of Europe and New Zealand and thought our three-way cross cows and grazing system would suit it," he said.
"I'm always looking at different things and thought if it could work it would change the game a bit."
After running numbers with his consultant, Josh decided to trial the system from November leading into drying off his cows in February.
After this season's success, Josh won't do it all year but might use 10-seven for six months of the year.
He said the cows were in better shape and had put on weight during the period.
Production was back a little bit for November, but that was confined to a 10-day period when the milking routine was changed.
"Once they settled, they were fine; no different to normal," Josh said.
December production was the same as the previous year and while January was back 4-5 per cent this wasn't uncommon around the district and Josh doesn't attribute the slight dip to 10-seven.
Josh added that the system had definitely helped with staff.
Tandarook farmer Spencer Rendell continues to use 10-in-seven days milking with great success and improved production after introducing the system in August 2021
"We love it...it's the best thing since beer," Spencer said.
"The best thing is we are back in control, not the cows."
The DemoDAIRY Foundation is keen to hear farmers' thoughts about extended milking intervals, such as 10-in-seven, 11-seven or three-two.
While not actively promoting the system, DemoDAIRY Foundation says it would help interested farmers to find more information if there's enough interest.
Click HERE for more information about extended milking intervals.
People can register interest in finding out more about extended milking intervals by contacting email@example.com or call Ian Teese on 0427358987.
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