Once-a-Day Milking From a True Believer

Reader Contribution by Julia Shewchuk and Serenity Acres Farm
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I guess the headline gives me away: We love once-a-day milking. We have practiced it now for 1½ years, and we don’t plan on ever going back to twice-a-day milking. Why? It gives us back our 5 p.m. time slot to pursue other projects or, every once in a while, even relax and eat an early dinner. We still get about 75 percent of the milk and use about 2/3 of the grain and only half the supplies. What is not to love?

We were well suited to switch from twice-a-day milking to once-a-day milking: We don’t show our goats, we are not on DHI milk test, we typically milk our does through for two seasons, and we dam-raise our kids and we start out milking the moms only once a day. After four to six weeks, we separate the kids at night for their slumber party, then in the morning, we milk the dams about 2/3, leave breakfast for the kids, and turn them out together for the day.

So, when the time came to wean the kids, we just kept milking the dams once a day, and switched our current milking does to once-a-day milking. It worked for current milking does, because they were towards the end of their extended milking cycle with a slightly lower milk volume. And besides wondering what the heck happened to their evening milking, they settled into the new routine quite quickly and without problems.

Benefits of Once-a-Day Milking

Here is a list of the quite obvious benefits milking goats only once per day:

• Extra time in the evenings

• Not having to spend  one and a half hours milking in the evening left plenty of time for feet trimming, grooming the Pyrenees, hanging with the goats, or other projects that would have normally been cut short by milking. And on occasion, especially in the winter, it has been nice to actually end chores, with the exception of night check, at the time when it gets dark.

• Significant decrease in supplies and expense

• We now use half the amount of teat wipes, teat spray and any other supplies used for the milking routine. This, of course, translates into a substantial financial savings over the course of a year.

• We use about two-thirds of the feed. At first, we didn’t any feed grain in the evening, only our perennial peanut hay (similar to alfalfa), and as a result milk production dropped off substantially, more than we expected. So we started feeding grain again in the evening, but only half the amount of the mornings, and milk production increased again.

Factors to Consider for Once-a-Day Milking

Here is a list of factors to consider for OAD milking. We don’t consider them con’s, but they do need to be considered before embarking on OAD milking:

• Decrease in milk production. You could expect a milk reduction by about half when you go from twice-a-day milking to once-a-day milking, but that is not so. The research we read pointed to a reduction of about 30 percent, and that’s exactly what we got. Think about it, and it makes sense: Even with twice-a-day milking, usually does give more milk in the morning. That is because overnight the does rest and spend most of their energy producing milk — well, and chewing cud. During the day, the does spend more energy browsing, playing, head butting, flirting with the bucks, and so don’t produce as much milk for the evening.

• Another reason is that there is usually a longer time period between evening milking and morning milking (about 12 hours) than during morning and evening milking (10-11 hours). So, with once-a-day milking, you are just deleting the smaller amount milking time. To compensate for the 30-percent reduction in milk, we just added two does to the milking lineup and now have the same amount of milk.

Healthy Udders

Over-full udders would usually just be a problem in the month right after giving birth and would definitely be more of an issue if you pull the kids right a birth, which is not a practice we endorse or follow for various reasons. As I stated earlier, we leave the kids on the moms full-time for the first four to six weeks, and then separate the kids at night to be reunited again with their moms after the morning milking — we milk out half of the milk and leave the rest for the kids — for their breakfast and the rest of the day.

So the kids take care of the first month’s peak production and by the time we start milking the does, the udders are already used to the milk production and with a few exceptions, handle the once-a-day milking well, because the kids are taking care of the “overproduction”.

In cases where we have leaking udders in the morning, we delay separating the kids at night or we relieve the pressure at night and definitely milk those does first in the morning. After about six to eight weeks, we usually have no more leaking udders.

Mastitis/Increased Somatic Cell Count

When milk sits in the udder longer, the somatic cell count does increase naturally, especially in the beginning. But with our milkers, it has not increased to the point where it would be indicated on a somatic cell count test like the California Mastitis Test or any of the commercially available test cards.

We test our milking does, especially in the beginning, on a weekly basis and have not had an issue with somatic cell count or mastitis due to once-a-day milking. Of course, vigilance and extra sanitation are the key. There is also more research material cited on this topic within the Gianaclis Caldwell articles, and this seems to be the norm in operations that switched from twice-a-day to once-a-day milking.

Conformation of Udder

Other articles have gone into more detail about what type of udder is more suited to once-a-day milking. To be honest, we have not paid much attention to the type of udder — we have switched all goats regardless of udder type and all of them have transitioned fabulously.

Earlier Drying Off

None of the goats we have transitioned to once-a-day milking show any signs of drying off earlier than normal, and for us that is after an average of 18 months of milking.

In conclusion: If you are looking for more disposable time to spend on other farm projects and could use a bit more disposable income — and can do with 30 percent less milk or are able to add a couple more goats to make up for the shortfall — then once-a-day milking might just be the ticket for you. And apparently, even farms on milk test can make it work. However, that is for another expert to explain.

Julia Shewchuk owns and operates Serenity Acres Farm on 80 acres in Florida. Serenity Acres runs on solar, is Animal Welfare Approved-certified, houses anywhere from four to 10 WWOOFers and interns, and is the home to 58 dairy goats, 16 Black Angus cattle, 278 laying hens, 3 horses, 3 cats, 4 house dogs, 6 livestock guardian dogs, and 6 ducks. Read all of Julia’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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