Once a day milking is enough
Less time in the milking shed and more free time is what drove Norsewood dairy farmer Andrew Young to once-a-day (OAD) milking and he says he'll not go back to twice-a-day milking.
"OAD is kinder to everyone. Kinder on the people and the cows. It's a big change for first-time calvers to come in the herd and this is a lot easier and kinder for them."
He says four years ago Professor Colin Holmes from Massey University talked about once-a-day milking, and he mulled it over then, and again two years ago but, at that point, decided to stick to twice-a-day milking.
Then he thought some more about how it could work for him.
This is Young's first season of once-a-day milking and he is revelling in it.
His cows look great and he says with the extra pressure gone, he has more cows in-calf (about half the national empty rate of cows) and has fewer health problems in the herd.
Young also has time to spend doing things he likes, rather than being in the milking shed.
He says he works the 220 cows and 75-effective-hectare farm by himself.
"I milk in the morning, about 7 or 7.30. There's no time pressure. The cows make their own way to the dairy shed."
Most of the cows are friesian crossed with jersey and there is a 26-a-side herringbone shed and it takes 50 minutes to milk at the moment.
Production hasn't fallen much, says Young.
"It was 74,000 kilograms of milksolids (kg/MS) last year, this year on once-a-day it is 73,000."
Young says the drought last year did take its toll but in a normal year, on twice-a-day milking, he did about 78,000 kg/MS.
"It's not as big in terms of production, but I am happy."
And his costs are lower than average.
"Farm working expenses are $2.41 per kg/MS for this farm while the average is $3.87. And gross farm revenue for me is $7000 per hectare and the average is $6900."
The figures add up, says Young. He had a bigger cash operating surplus by more than $1600 a hectare.
Young says he changed from milking year-round.
"It means I don't have to milk every day, which I used to have to do. Now I get some time off in winter."
Young says he and his wife Kathy have a runoff and beef production unit about 4 kilometres up the road. They have two boys, aged 14 and 11.
He walks the cows to the runoff for over-wintering, crossing railway lines.
"But we know when the trains come each day."
Bulls are carefully selected to produce once-a-day cows.
He uses CRV Ambreed bulls, as he respects and likes the field rep, Rob Reed.
"He was a farmer and a top one, but hurt his back. If there was OAD then, it might have suited him and he could still be farming. But he is passionate about breeding."
Young says he and Kathy started sharemilking 17 years ago. After three years they went to an equity partnership and after another three years were able to buy their partner out.
"I am a first generation farmer. I grew up in Feilding. But I had a great uncle and used to go to his sheep and beef farm near Colyton."
That's where he got a taste of farming, and he loved it as a school kid.
Farming was for him and sharemilking was an easier path to farm ownership than any alternative.
Young says he cares a lot about the environment.
"When I came here the cows could go in the river. The first thing I did was fence it off, thinking it can't be good for cows to go into a river."
He uses little or no nitrogen fertiliser in the form of urea.
Young says the New Zealand dairy industry is very focused on reducing nitrogen outputs and he is committed to the cause.
"We are in the bottom 10 per cent on the overseer programme for nitrogen output, which makes me really happy and I know some of the environmental on-farm practices help me achieve these results."
Young says he uses dicalcic fertiliser, a mixture of phosphate and lime.
"They say it does not enter waterways. And I use half the recommended phosphate levels, and my phosphate reading [checks levels] has not changed on the farm."
The farm runs alongside the start of the Manawatu River. "I worry about water quality. It's clean at this end of the river, and the boys can swim here."
Young says he's pleased he went to once-a-day and he expects to stick with it.
"OAD is a polarising debate. It would have been hard 20 years ago, but we have high genetic merit cows now, and we can do it."
He hosted a field day recently, attracting almost 80 farmers from all over the southern part of the North Island who wanted to see the farm and how he was managing it.