OAD or TAD? That’s the question.

When you hear a farmer talk about OAD (Once-A-Day) milking it is often noted that cows are so much happier.

Milk production does not seem to drop that much, and they have a lot less lame cows. If you go by that, why wouldn’t you go OAD milking and on some farms that may well be the best option. The question that nobody seems to be asking is “why are cows so much happier and why are there much less lame cows”? I think there is a very good lesson to be learned from the OAD milkers.

The reason why cows respond so well to OAD milking is because their basic needs are being better catered for. A cow needs water, food, air, light, space and shelter. The better you cater for those needs the better the cows can function and therefore the cow becomes more productive and profitable. So, when you go OAD milking what basic need are you catering for better than you did with the TAD (Twice-A-Day) milking? Air, light and space are not usually a problem for our pasture-based dairy cows. On the other hand, water, food and shelter can be a big challenge. The water situation does not change when you go OAD milking, but food and shelter does.

The key here is the time budget. With time budget I mean that a cow has 24 hours of time each day. How is she spending or how should she be spending her 24 hours? In that time, she needs to eat, drink, rest, socialize, walk to and from the cow shed and be milked. When you look at a well-fed herd in a paddock on a dry day you see cows grazing, laying down, drinking and socializing – this is normal, natural behaviour for a cow. When you take the cows out of the paddock and put them on the holding yard, cows take on a different behaviour: they bunch up on the tracks and just stand on the yard. As this is different behaviour to what they show us when they are not controlled by people we can conclude that just standing is not a natural behaviour.

When we talk about shelter as a basic need for a cow we talk about everything that shelter is for, e.g. a barrier in wet and windy conditions, but also a place to be able to lay down comfortably. The shelter itself has not changed when you go OAD milking but the amount of time available for a cow to lay down has because she is spending less of her time on the track and in the cow shed. This is also true for food. OAD cows spend more time in the paddock eating and spend less energy walking.

These are the main differences from a cow’s perspective between OAD and TAD milking. Basically, the cows are telling us that the way we manage them in a TAD system is often not catering for their basic needs sufficiently. So, we can go OAD or we can change our management to improve the paddock time to better cater for their basic needs. If you cater for their basic needs to the same level as you would under OAD, you will find that the performance difference between the OAD and TAD cows become much greater.