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3x milking

Today is the first day of 3x milking for our dairy.  It's a big step.  Lay off the jargon, dairyman.  What's 3x milking? you ask.  It's milking the cows three times each day.  In the past we've done 2x (twice a day) for most of our cows as well as 4x (four times a day) for our fresh cows (new mamas).

Why?  Well, believe it or not, there's nothing magical about milking twice a day.  There's no universal bovine mandate that specifies that cows should be milked twice a day.  In fact, recent polling data among both conservative and liberal cows indicates a strong trend toward freedom in milking times and as well as widespread milk equality.  Sorry.  I couldn't resist.

Seriously though.  Twice a day milking is pretty stereotypical when imagining life on a dairy.  And historically that’s been a pretty fair stereotype, even though that practice has been changing for decades.  But I digress.  Back to history.  Let me paint you a picture that I hope is somewhat accurate.  

The cows stick their heads outside the barn to get their feed . . . and to check the weather, see if the paper's been delivered, and check up on their nosy neighbors.

Milking a few cows was something many farmers did for a significant portion of our history, be it here or abroad.  You could have a couple cows in the barn and could take your lantern out to the stall and milk the girls while it was still dark and cold outside.  You’d have fresh dairy products for your family every day, which was great . . . because you didn’t have a refrigerator.  Maybe you sold some as well.  But follow me here: It was work you and the kids could do before and after your daytime chores, it provided vitally nutritious food for your family, and you could earn some extra money to support your family as well.  (Notice an emphasis on family here?)

Even back in the 80s when my mom and dad took over the milking from my grandparents, it was something they would do to bookend their days.  You could fit hogs, hay and crops in between the two milkings  . . . some days easier than others.  Not to say that there weren’t 3x dairies in the 80s, there were.  But for us, it wasn’t a good fit at that point.  Enough waxing on dairy history, farmer boy!  Ok, back to the real question here.  Why 2x versus 3x?

As with most things, it requires weighing the positives and negatives of both options.  Positive: 3x better emulates the frequency at which a calf would nurse.  Negative: It also keeps the cow on her feet longer if milk times run long, which could make her more tired.  So we have to have our barns and parlor designed for quick turnaround.  

Positive: Milking 3x improves milk quality as well as milk volume.  Negative: Our equipment is used 50 percent more and will wear out 50 percent quicker.  

Positive: We’re milking 24 hours a day.  Someone is always here to take care of newborn calves or cows that develop issues.  Negative: We’re milking 24 hours a day.  7 days a week.  365 days a year.  If equipment breaks down, they’re not much time to repair it.  If someone gets sick or doesn’t show up, we have to be ready to step in and cover the milking shift at any hour.

In the end, we feel it’s a good move for us.  We designed the dairy with 3x in mind, but proceeded with 2x until we felt the dairy was operating at a high enough level to make the change.  A large portion of dairies do 3x milking nowadays.  It makes good sense both from a cow perspective and from a financial perspective.  

Come to think of it, those two perspectives are one in the same.  If it’s not good for the cows, in the long run, it’s not good financially.   And vice versa.  If we don’t make things work financially, our cows aren’t going to have feed.  Or a home.  So we take care of them, and they take care of us.  It works best that way. 

---- Chris 


  1. Nice. The dairy cows were long gone from the farm before I showed up, but remember the stories. Am guessing from the signature photo of this piece you were #1 showing off your wedding ring for the wife and #2 am guessing that truck is a manual and you were in the process of shifting, hence using your other hand for the phone.

  2. Farmer Riggs is our local dairyman. We love a little taste of his cow brew every now and then. Thank you for being a dairy farmer Chris. You are God's gift to cows and families like mine.

  3. You will be richly rewarded by this move. We milk 350 contented cows 3x in a Double 10 parallel and are averaging nearly 100#/day.Needless to say, these cows want to be milked 3x! I would really like to visit your dairy someday.

  4. Exciting! I hope the transition goes smoothly for you and the girls!

  5. I have a personal charity you might want to donate to, just in case you go 4x . . .

    --Melissa, aka. Personal Charity


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