Archive for Dairy Cattle Milking Frequency

MILKING FREQUENCY: How Much is “Just Right!”

Depending on where you live in the dairy producing world, you could be penalized for over-producing or under-producing on targets that relate to payment received for milk shipped. In Canada, there are zero payments for over-quota production.  In the U.S., producers need to be able to respond to the rise and fall in milk prices.  Everyone in this business sees the benefits of having a way to more finely target milk production.

STRATEGIC THINKING:  Factors in Making a Choice.

In general, genetics plays a major role in how much milk you get from your cows. However, that is a long-term strategy that is not responsive in the short-term. When seeking the right numbers at the right time, milking frequency and nutrition are the tools that breeders can turn to.

As with anything else, there are benefits and issues, when it comes to changing milking frequency.  While it may seem easy to reduce milking times, that choice has implications for the health of the animal.  Careful monitoring of energy status is necessary to avoid serious udder health complications and long-term-production losses. As well the extended milking intervals may run up associated costs from requiring additional veterinary services.  On the other hand, milking more often incurs expenses too in terms of labour and feed however breeders will be most interested in factors contributing to the profitability of frequent milking which also are impacted by labor, herd size, herd health, management, feed costs and milk price (Armstrong et al., 1985; Culotta and Schmidt, 1988)


  • Higher yields
  • Lower incidence of mastitis  
  • Economic return:

o   3x increased net income by 21% compared to 2X (Rao and Ludri 1984)

o   $93/cow/year when milked 4X for the first three weeks of lactation followed by 2X (Wall and McFadden, 2007)



  • Damage from increased washing and drying of teats
  • Teat end damage from poor milking techniques.
  • Milking equipment injuries to teats and udders from liner slippage, poor cluster attachment or infection from infected milking equipment or unhygienic milking procedures.



Significant research has been compiled on milking frequency, and it is quite interesting.

  • Erdman et al. 1995
  • Effect of six times daily milking (Journal of Dairy Science Sept 2010)
  • Increasing Milking Frequency (University of Maryland)

One milking frequency study that is particularly interesting comes from Israel where an experiment was conducted in a herd of 300 cows. The study investigated the effect of six milkings per day during the first 21 days of lactation. The conclusion was that a higher milk frequency had a positive effect on milk yield. Furthermore, the positive effect was determined to be permanent throughout the lactation, as the production of the cows that were milked six times per day was higher than the group that had been milked only three times.  Even when transferred back to three milkings per day the milking production of the six time milking cows remained higher.

Along the same lines, is a study conducted in Maryland that also concluded that increasing the milking frequency to 4X from 2X milking during the first 21 days could result in a persistent milk yield increase throughout the entire lactation. The article results were reported as follows:

The yield, at 37.8 kg/day, was higher over the entire lactation following this milking frequency changed when compared to 34.5 kg/day when 2X milking was used from the beginning of the lactation. A persistent yield increase to 37.6 kg/day was observed even when the milking frequency was delayed by four days after calving.


Researchers have looked at the effects on milking production when switching milking frequencies for a specifically limited amount of time. They found that timing is critical and concluded that the best results are observed in early lactation. The studies looked at changes taken during the first 21 days of the lactation and then reversion to the normal frequency for the rest of the lactation

“The first three weeks of lactation have the greatest impact on milk yield, whether slowing down or increasing production.”

Another interesting research project by Master’s researcher Ashely Sanders at the University of Maryland yielded these observations from examining the effects of 6X versus 3X milking, from the time immediately after calving until week six postpartum in both first- and second-lactation cows.

“Milk production increases were maintained even beyond the six weeks of increased milking. While the response from first-lactation cows was minimal and nonsignificant, the second-lactation 6X and 3X cows produced 97 lb/cow/day and 83.8 lb/cow/day, respectively. Even after increased milking ceased, and cows were milked only 3X, significant differences in milk yield within the second lactation group persisted. Over 305 days, second-lactation 6X cows produced 90.4 lb/cow/day while the first lactation 3X cows produced 84.0 lb/cow/day. The parity effect on milk production was attributed to lower body weight at calving as well as younger average age.”


Studies have found that cows respond with an average increase of about 6 pounds of milk daily for the entire lactation.  Of course, there will be variation in response.  Producers must be very aware of cow body condition at freshening. Nutrition management is also a factor in improving the response to increased milking frequency.

As research is accumulated, there are always more understanding of ways to manage increased milking frequency.

Targeted Selection: Whether increased or decreased frequency is chosen, it doesn’t have to apply to the whole herd at once. Target first-time fresheners for increased production.  Alternatively, cows with large udder capacities could be separated for less frequent milking.

Studies by Fitzgerald, Annen, Baumgard and VanBaale ( further outlined interesting management considerations when increasing milking frequency.

Timing of Extra Milkings: Moderate sized hers report achieving 6x frequency by milking fresh group at both the beginning of a milking cycle.  Large sized herds can achieve 6x frequency by scheduling milkings for the fresh group every 4 (or 6 hours).  Robotic milking herds produce more milking by moving fresh cows up to the robot.

Reduce Stress: Minimize time spent in holding pens in order to decrease pre-milking stressors and support the potential milk yield increase for 4X and 6X milking.

Cow Throughput:  The number of cows milked per hour, and the number of stalls and milkers in the parlor are considerations when increasing milking frequency.

Walking Distance: In 2002 John Smith and co-workers suggested that the consideration should be given to maximum walking distances in order to minimize feet and leg stress when increasing milking frequencies:

  • 2X – 1,000 ft.
  • 3x – 700 ft.
  • 4x – 500 ft.

Shade and Cooling:  Providing the milking cows with shade and cooling.  They use up energy reserves trying to cool down. The energy is needed for converting feed to milk production.

Adequate Water:  To maximize feed intake cows need lots of water. Dairy cattle may increase water intake by 50% under periods of heat stress.  This is a consideration in hot weather environments especially (Arizona; New Mexico)


Regardless of the goals, changing milking frequency during the first 21 days of production can have the most significant impact on milk production.

Superior management is key in achieving the highest percentage increase from changing milking frequency. 




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