Case Study: SRUC Dairy Herds - The Effect of Reducing Milking Frequency in Response to Covid-19

Are there benefits to be had from moving from a 3x milking system to 2x?

Perhaps the main reason to change is to reduce milk output, based on your milk buyers requirements with the current impact of COVID-19 on dairy markets. However, reducing milking frequency may not necessarily significantly reduce milk output as discovered at SRUC’s three dairy units.

  • The milking interval will have an impact on the response to 2x milking. Keeping to a 12 hour interval could minimise the drop in production.
  • Be aware that cell counts and mastitis count increase, but with attention to detail in the parlour and keeping cows clean, milk hygiene quality can be maintained.
  • There are benefits for staff, reduced labour and other costs associated with a 3rd milking.

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Dairy farmers sought for international project

TEN SCOTTISH dairy farmers are being given the opportunity to become involved in a project looking at how new technologies can improve and secure the long-term future of dairying.

One of the project partners is Scotland’s Rural College, and the project will run for four years, from 2018 until the end of 2021.

An initial budget of €2,000 per farm has been allocated for each pilot farmer to travel over the lifetime of the project, in order for them to visit other European farms within a network of 100 pilot farms.

Known as Dairy-4-Future, the EU Interreg-funded project involves consortium of 11 partners from the Atlantic region of western Europe.

Project partners are from five countries, including the UK , Ireland, France, Spain and Portugal, and organisations involved include SRUC, CAFRE, AHDB, IDELE and Teagasc.

Project partners are supported by 21 associate partners across the five countries.

Dairy production is an important economic activity in the Atlantic Area, and dairy expansion is ongoing in that area. As dairying faces the challenges of market volatility and climatic hazards, there is a need for more efficient use of natural resources to improve competitiveness and the use of new and innovative farming techniques.

From Scotland to the Azores, the Dairy-4-Future project aims to increase the competitiveness, sustainability and resilience of dairy farms, through the development of innovative and efficient dairy systems and increased co-operation between research and development stakeholder groups.

Pilot farms are an integral aspect of this project, along with the analysis of sustainability on the farms across the five countries involved.

Some criteria must be met in order to be involved in the project. Farms must be innovative and it is essential these pilot farms are farms typical of the region, i.e. above-average dairy farms in terms of technical and economic performance, while at the same time being relevant to other farms in the region in terms of farm size and cow numbers.

The average number of cows per farm ranges between 31 in the Azores to 182 in Scotland, with a mean of 82 cows per farm in the Atlantic Area.

Key selection criteria for the pilot farms are:
•    Good economic performance
•    Good technical and environmental performances (N balance, Carbon Footprint)
•    Motivated individuals, prepared to travel to visit pilot farms in other regions
•    Prepared to host farm visits both locally and from other European regions
•    Innovative dairy farms, incorporating novel dairy systems or working in close collaboration with research and development

"This is a win-win strategy for livestock farmers, the dairy industry, consumers and citizens"

What are the challenges for Dairy production in the Atlantic Area?

André Le Gall: The European Atlantic Area is very favourable to dairy production thanks to good pedoclimatic conditions for fodder production, well educated farmers and efficient dairy processing and manufacturing businesses. The Atlantic Area is well positioned to meet growing global demand for of dairy products. Nevertheless, the dairy sector faces several challenges:

  • The economic resilience of milk producing family farms in a context of market globalisation.
  • Environmental impact, including the carbon footprint of milk production, through more efficient resource use on farms.
  • Good husbandry practices that protect animal welfare
  • Working conditions on dairy farms to encourage young people to see dairy farming as a viable and attractive career.

Why do we need another project on Dairy farm sustainability?

André Le Gall: Finding more appropriate upgraded solutions to economic, environmental and social challenges are pivotal to maintaining viable family farms in constantly evolving contexts; global markets, policy on climate change and social mores.

What is the main novelty of Dairy4Future?

André Le Gall: The Dairy4Future project aims to design and implement innovative systems of dairy production with improved economic, environmental and social performances through multi-actor transnational approach with farmers, advisors and researchers working together to elucidate the most desirable outcomes. Targets include lowering on-farm production costs by 10% and carbon footprint of farm-gate milk by 20%.

Can you tell us a little more about the Consortium: how did you establish it? What was the relationship between partners before D4F?

André Le Gall: The Atlantic Area encompasses 20% of the dairy production in Europe. Dairy4Future brings together partners from research, innovation, extension, dairy farmer and industry representatives many of whom have already been involved in earlier European projects such as Green Dairy (2003-2006) Dairyman (2009-2013) Autograssmilk (2013-2015) Eurodairy (2015-2018) and others. This ensured optimal cooperation from the outset between partners that shared a well-informed and balanced vision for the dairy sector in the Atlantic Area. Partners bring complementary competencies ranging from dairy value chain socio-economics, farming techniques and systems, environmental assessment and carbon footprint mitigation.

Can you briefly describe the approach to reach the proposed objectives?

André Le Gall: We first carried out a SWOT analysis of the dairy sector in the different regions of the Atlantic area, covering both on-farm production and the downstream processing sector.  We are in the process of identifying  the multifaceted services provided by dairy farming. The development of more resilient and efficient dairy farming systems is based on a network of 100 high-tech, economically and environmentally efficient dairy farms and 10 experimental farms, which are involved in testing more efficient systems of milk production. One of the functions of this network is to facilitate exchange of innovations between partners and in the wider communities throughout the Atlantic Area. This is supported by active communication on social networks and by a conference in summer 2020 for stakeholders from across the Atlantic Area.

How can we differentiate Dairy products and be more competitive in the future?

André Le Gall: We will promote innovative dairy systems that are based on local resources such as the rich rain-fed grasslands of the Atlantic Area that underpin low cost production of milk with a low environmental footprint. These systems render several services to society (food, ecosystems and culture) and allow for product differentiation  of milk products and higher value along dairy food supply chains.

How are farmers involved in the project?

André Le Gall: There are 100 pilot farmers that are actively involved in addressing the core  issues in this project. Exchanges between regions are facilitates by exchange visits of pilot farmers and other stakeholders from one region to another. The pilot livestock farmers will also be involved in the 2020 Summer Conference, so that they can champion the innovative practices implemented on their farms. Finally, these 100 pilot farms open up their farms for other farmers and stakeholders can come and visit and see and learn and discus about the innovations in practice.

What is the role of the network of 10 experimental farms?

André Le Gall: The role of experimental farms is to develop, test and demonstrate prototype systems that make efficient  use of resources and with a low environmental footprint; there are ambitious targets for lowering greenhouse gas emissions, for example. We also aim for standardisation of methods and metrics, to facilitate interpretation and more rapidly elucidate the systems of tomorrow.

Where can we found more information about the project and how can be stay in contact?

André Le Gall: Information on the project is available on the Dairy4Future project website. Project news and results will be published as they become available on social networks (Facebook in PT, ES, FR, UK and IRL, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube). Conferences organised in each region or country will also disseminate results. Finally, information is available from the contact point of each country.

What will we learn from D4F?

André Le Gall: The main innovations will be blueprint systems of milk production optimised for best economic and environmental outcomes for farmers and society in general. There will be roadmaps for a sustainable future for dairy farmers and for the dairy processing sector including  issues such as encouraging the next generation of dairy farmers and production differentiation, for examples. The aim is to promote strategies for long-term impact.

How can farmers interact with pilot farmers, researchers and other members of the Consortium?

André Le Gall: Dairy farmers and other stakeholders will be able to interact with pilot farmers and research teams at Open Days that will be held on pilot farms and experimental farms throughout the project.

This is a very promising project. Will it change Dairy farming in Europe?

André Le Gall: The objective of this project is to promote worthy, productive and competitive dairy systems, based on local resources and with low environmental impact, and able to add value on dairy products. This is a win-win strategy for livestock farmers, the dairy industry, consumers and citizens. The target of this project is also to stimulate exchanges between us, because we believe in cooperation rather than competition.


  André Le Gall, project coordinator (