Across the country, milk processors and co-ops are calling for dairy farms to reduce the amount of milk they ship, in some cases by as much as 20% of their current volume.
Coffeen peggy
Coffeen is a former editor and podcast host with Progressive Dairy. 

Dairy consultant Pauly Paul, with Complete Management Consulting based in Wisconsin, cautions producers to look not only at cutting their milk production, but also at cutting their costs.

While dropping down from a 3X- to 2X-milking schedule may seem like a viable way to achieve this, Paul urges producers to consider a few important factors before dropping a milking shift.

1. Milk per stall

“The biggest thing to look at is getting more hundredweights per stall in the parlor,” Paul says.

According to Paul, parlor size in comparison to the number of cows being milked is a critical equation to calculate when determining whether 3X- or 2X-milking will truly offer efficiencies.


“The dairies 2X works well on are the ones that have a parlor that is already maxed out, to the point that they can hardly get more cows through it,” Paul says.

On the contrary, he warns, “I’ve seen bad things happen in parlors that are too big milking 2X.”

One of those “bad things” is cows standing for longer periods of time between leaving the pen to be milked and returning back.

“I personally like keeping the parlor full 24-hours-per-day, but cows still need to get to and from their pen in 45 minutes,” Paul says.

Also, when running the parlor numbers, be sure to account for actual parlor downtime. If the parlor continues to run just as long on two milkings as it did on three, then the electrical savings will not be significant.

2. Labor

While dropping a milking to reduce production and save on things like dips, chemicals, feed and power may perk ears, Paul reminds producers to keep in mind their dairy’s labor force. One less milking may not necessarily mean lower labor costs.

“The biggest mistake I see people making when dropping a milking is they reduce the amount of times they are milking, but the labor still stretches it out,” Paul says.

With 3X schedules typically structured around 8-10-hour shifts, employees are accustomed to being able to work and be paid for those full shifts. If a milking shift is now only four hours long, it may open opportunities to cross-train certain employees to do other jobs on the dairy in order to maintain their normal working schedule.

“Instead of paying an hourly rate, consider a shift pay or paying by the job,” Paul says. “That will encourage employees to be done on time and get cows back to laying down in their pens, and it also allows you to capture the savings of actually giving the parlor a break.”

3. Reduce select groups to 2X

Before jumping into an entirely new milking schedule, Paul suggests reducing milkings for specific groups.

“Try milking certain groups twice daily, such as pregnant cows, do-not-breed cows and those past peak production,” he says. “However, we want to keep fresh cows ramping up to hit their peaks, and keeping those cows on 3X will do that.”

For dairies that do make the full transition to 2X-milking, Paul reminds them to keep their vendors and team members on the same page. Contact milking equipment dealers and suppliers to let them know the service schedule has changed. Also, notify veterinarians and breeders of changes to timing and workflow.

When considering whether going from 3X- to 2X-milking is the best option, Paul urges producers to think beyond the here-and-now and position themselves to be a long-term player in the game.

“These are all factors we need to look at as milk plants want to reduce by 10% to 20%, but I do believe it’s temporary,” Paul concludes. “Once you jump into 2X-milking, it can be a hard thing to come back from.”  end mark

PHOTO: Cutting back from 3X- to 2X-milking may be a strategy for some dairies looking to reduce milk production. However, Pauly Paul, Complete Management Consulting, cautions producers to evaluate a few key factors before making that move. Photo by Walt Cooley.

Peggy Coffeen