Spring is right around the corner, even though it may not feel like it yet. That means that it’s time to turn your attention to preparing your herd for the transition from winter feed.
Part of that preparation involves determining how to combine automatic milking with optimal grazing. With a free-flow traffic system, cows are regularly incentivized to use the robot through the offering of concentrates. These concentrates complement the feed they receive with the partially mixed ration at the feed fence. The question everyone asks is “how can cows be motivated to milk when grazing is involved?” Instead of the concentrates, access to fresh grass multiple times per day through the ABC grazing system is the positive motivation. When the motivation of a cow changes, it is important to safeguard this via the correct pasture.
That’s why Lely developed the Lely Grazeway selection box, giving you more control over grazing by using pre-set selection criteria to determine if specific cows need to be milked or are allowed out to pasture.
Before letting your herd out to graze, it’s important to make sure the pasture is in good shape. This begins with maintenance checks on the fences, water tanks and connections, lanes and gates. It is also important to make sure you do all the herd health checks you can before starting the transitions. Your cows will be on their feet and responsible for their own meal so make sure vaccinations are all current and that the hoof trimmer has visited those that need trimmed.
Once you have completed those steps, you will be ready to begin transitioning your herd into their new diet. The Pasture Dairy Center at Michigan State University (MSU) integrates robot technology and pasture-based management. It is one of two MSU dairy farms and works to expand the research capacity of MSU. In addition to robots, they use the Lely Grazeway selection box for steering the grazing system.
Howard Straub III, dairy manager with the W.K. Kellogg Biological Station, Pasture Dairy Center at MSU offers these tips to help make that transition easier on you and your cows.
- Start your transition as early as the pasture will allow. It is important to get a start building the feed “wedge,” a key tool for managing feed on a pasture based dairy farm, representing the quality and quantity of forage dry matter available both now and during grazing.The first pastures that are used may not be fully flush and ideal, but the cows will not be in them long, either. We call this flash grazing.
- Transition cows to pasture slowly. This will help the cows’ rumen microbes transition to the new feed stock. At MSU, the first day out on grass is two hours long. The second day is four hours, and so on until the sixth day when they are grazing half days. The cows are retrieved from the pasture after each of these time periods end. On day 10, set the Grazeway for 12 hour access, but do not go get the cows. On day 14, the Grazeways are functioning 24 hours a day (fully grazing). While this schedule can be somewhat flexible, recommendations are to take no less than 10 days to fully transition to grass.
- Always introduce pasture to cows after they have been fed. This will reduce the amount of grass that is initially ingested and reduce instances of bloat. Cows should feed two hours before the transition grazing events in order to give them plenty of time to fill up. As the transition continues, there will be a reduction in a partial TMR (pTMR) feed intake. You can reduce the amount offered to control weigh backs, but don’t short the cows on feed offered. They will reduce it on their own time.
- Use the Grazeways as much as possible during this transition. While most of the cows will remember how to use the selection gates, you may have some new heifers that have never used them. The more they go through them the better. Keep an eye on your Grazeways and one-way gates to assist any heifers that may seem confused. Delaying use of the Grazeways during transition will delay the training, and you may be pushing and fetching heifers for a month.
There are many factors that go into making your grazing transition successful while using milking robots. Some of those include good cow traffic, management of grass quality and quantity, access to pasture, outside access to water and adjusting to the changing conditions.