Determining Tasmanian Herd Size

Paul Lambert discusses labour, milking speed and walking distances as factors dictating expansion into large scale dairying in Tasmania in a report for Nuffield Australian Farming Scholars.
calendar icon 1 March 2013
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Nuffield International

Determining Herd Size by Labour

Labour on dairy farms in Tasmania can be difficult, especially as farms become larger and businesses take on a more corporate structure and don’t have the owner on-farm. Observations and discussions over many years have shown that one manager is best with just two to three people directly under them at one time. Beyond this it requires a fairly highly skilled manager to keep everyone working well in a busy dairy farming environment.

This then almost dictates the maximum size of one single dairy farm as far as easy management goes. To explain this some more, if there is one manager, they will cope best with no more than three people around them at one time. The same applies to the second-in-charge (when the manager has time off).

So over a seven day period with four people working each day including the manager and/or second-in-charge, all working five days on and two off or similar, there would have to be six staff on the roster. The average of the top ten per cent of farms in Tasmania milk one hundred and twenty five cows per person (at the peak busy times from calving through spring) (Doonan, 2012), equating to this team of six people milking seven hundred and fifty cows efficiently.

The hardest job on extremely large farms is often simply getting all of the cows through the dairy each day. Some of these farms have even gone to once-a-day milking to try to make life a little easier for everyone.

With a large robotic dairy at the centre of a two thousand two hundred cow farm, labour would be greatly reduced. Robotic milking in this situation would result in huge staff satisfaction and labour efficiencies.

Predicted staff levels of around one person to more than three hundred cows could be achieved. This would bring the management of this example of a large operation back to a scale where the average manager could cope with their small team around them.

Determining Herd Size by Milking Speed

Herd size in pasture based systems is determined by how quickly the cows can be moved along lane ways and how quickly they can be milked and travel back to the paddock. In Australia and New Zealand there are a few one thousand cow herds being milked through sixty to eighty unit rotary dairies.

Mostly single herds are no greater than seven hundred and fifty, milked through fifty to sixty unit rotary dairies set up for a single operator. This creates many points of efficiency. The multiplication of herds becomes the next step from this point.

Economics show that moving slightly up in numbers from one large herd to two or more smaller herds does not in most cases work for greater profits, and could in fact reduce profitability (Doonan, 2012).

Financial consultants would encourage a dairy farm with multiple herds to keep them large. Large herds are more efficient for milking, feeding and walking. The largest dairy farms in Australia and New Zealand have multiple herds of one thousand cows each.

Determining Herd Size by Walking Distance

The next limiting factor is farm size and walking distance. Cows will walk up to two kilometres on flat ground without significantly affecting production. This could equate to eight kilometres in one day excluding grazing.

A cross-bred or Jersey cow can still produce close to her body weight in milk solids in one year while requiring less than one tonne of supplementary grain, so long as she is fed adequate amounts of high quality pasture at these distances.

With a dairy correctly placed close to the middle of a relatively flat, highly- productive farm stocked at three to four cows per hectare, three large herds could be placed in easy walking distance of a dairy.

A farm of five hundred and fifty hectares could potentially run two thousand two hundred cows in three seven hundred and thirty cow herds. This would be efficient down to three separate five hundred cow herds and could have an envisaged maximum of three herds of one thousand cows each.

Pasture-based farms of this magnitude do exist, but are difficult to manage because of their labour requirements.


Cows walking to the dairy, Tasmania

Further Reading

You can view the full report by clicking here.

February 2013

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