A look into nutritional factors affecting robotic milking

Posted by Team Lely on Dec 07, 2015
Team Lely

Progressive Dairyman staff pulled a list of the articles that were most well-read during 2015.  The #6 top read article was written by Lely's Mark Rose, "A look into nutritional factors affecting robotic milking." Below is an excerpt of that article or read the entire column here.

Dairy cow awaiting robotic milking


A look into nutritional factors affecting robotic milking

The shift from conventional to automatic milking systems is one of the biggest decisions a producer can make. Many questions and concerns that come with this decision relate to the dairy’s feed management. Read on for real robot nutrition experience and the best approach to ensure success before, during and after startup in an automatic milking system.

Before start-up

Nutritionally, the homework for a producer, along with the nutritionist, begins three to four months prior to startup when they meet with local farm management support to discuss changes in feed management.

The biggest challenge for the producer and nutritionist may be moving from a TMR to a partially mixed ration (PMR). Changing feeding styles is an important step in transitioning to automatic milking, ensuring cows are motivated to visit the robot regardless of barn layout.

What does a PMR look like? The best rule of thumb is to balance the feedbunk 6.8 kilograms below the herd’s average production. The remainder of the carbohydrate requirement will come from pellets fed in the automatic milking system.

Pellet quality and composition

There are as many forms and formulations of pellets fed in automatic milking systems as there are farms with automatic milking systems, so there is no “silver bullet” to composition. The common thread, however, is that pellet quality and palatability need to be consistently excellent.

Ideally, a “robot pellet” would include starch-rich ingredients. Here are a few reasons why:

1. Starch rapidly degrades in the rumen to produce propionic acid, which increases glucose production in the liver and therefore stimulates milk production.

Energy from carbohydrate digestion also promotes microbial protein synthesis, which enhances the cow’s nitrogen efficiency compared to cows fed digestible-fibre pellets.

2. By feeding cows according to their individual carbohydrate requirement, calories can be allocated exactly based on demands of milk production, stage in lactation and parity.

3. Cows which are fed a PMR in combination with a starchy pellet are stimulated to visit the robots as well as the feedbunk.

Cows are attracted to durable pellets with little fines. Not all feed mills are the same and may be challenged when pelleting some starch-rich ingredients, like corn, but other ingredients, such as barley and oats, have good pelleting qualities and still fulfil a cow’s glucose requirement.

Pellets leaving the feed mill should have less than 2 percent fines and should ideally strive to deliver feed with less than 1 percent fines.

Feeding at startup

It’s a few days before startup, and everything is ready for the big day. Are the cows ready? Some farms allow for a training period a few days before startup where cows can visit the robot, not to be milked but to find the high-quality pellet formulated for them. This develops recognition that the robot delivers a reward for visiting.

Make the transition into the robot smooth by feeding the PMR and top-dressing the pellets on the bunk before startup. Cows will become acquainted with the change in feedbunk management, and it provides something familiar to taste when visiting the automatic milking system the first few times.

A survey conducted in 2011 by 60 automatic milking system startups echoed the importance of proper bunk management prior to startup and beyond.

Read the entire article for graphs and more details.





Tags: Animal Care, Cow Health, Robotic Milking, Smart Feeding