Healthy claws = active cows = optimal robot visits
Claw health is influenced by a large number of factors. Optimum housing and effective barn hygiene reduce the risk of claw problems. Feeding and other management measures play a part as well. First and foremost, healthy and active cows with good claws show a better voluntary robot visiting behaviour than cows with claw problems. Therefore, prevention of claw problems deserves major focus to enhance cow wellbeing and the economic and social life of dairy farmers.
Optimal voluntary robot visit behaviour by prevention of claw lesions
On robotic dairy farms, prevention of claw problems is one of the key factors to achieve an active and healthy herd and, hence, optimum utilization of robot capacity. Claw problems are a major cause of lameness for dairy cattle. Lameness causes substantial economic damage due to reduced robot visits, veterinary costs, loss of production, indirect fertility problems as well as - quite often - quicker culling. In the context of animal wellbeing, prevention of claw ailments is a necessity as well.
There are various factors causing claw problems: housing, barn hygiene, strain exerted on the claws as well as feeding and transition management. If any of these factors disturbs the balance between the cows’ resistance and infection pressure in the barn, this will manifest itself in infection / damage of the claws. Preventive measures such as the use of foot-baths should be aimed at keeping infection pressure at the lowest possible level. The risk of claw problems is reduced by optimizing the other factors, e.g. frequent cleaning of cubicles with a view to improved hygiene.
Strain exerted on claws
Even though claws wear on a rough surface, they need to be trimmed frequently. If this does not happen, there will be unequal strain which may cause claw ailments. In addition, loose horn is removed keeping bacteria from causing infections. Preferably, hoof trimming takes place at least twice a year (more often, if necessary, on problem farms). Claw health has a dramatic influence on cows' voluntary robot visit behaviour. Claws need to be clipped in a professional manner; inadequate trimming will only lead to an increase of strain on claws and lameness.
Feeding and transmission management
Optimum rations during dry-off and transition periods reduce the risk of hepatic steatosis and an undue negative energy balance after calving; thus, the cow's resistance can be maintained. Dairy farmers should therefore make sure that the cows are not too fat prior to dry-off and that the animals do not get fatter or skinnier during dry-off periods. In addition, they should ensure a gradual build-up of concentrate rations after calving as well as feed with a sufficient structure. This avoids acidosis, which is often connected to bovine laminitis. A sufficient feed structure is also essential to stimulating the cows to visit the robot.
The most profitable feeding strategy
What is the best feeding strategy for profitable farming? For most farmers, a profitable way of feeding is supplying the dairy cow daily the nutrients she needs. Optimal feeding motivates cows to visit the robot voluntarily thereby decreasing the workload for the farmer. In addition, with an optimal feeding strategy the rumen pH is more stable ensuring healthier and more durable cows. Applying the Partial Mixed Ration (PMR) feeding strategy is an optimal and very profitable way to feed robotic dairy cows. As a result, the total costs per 100 kg of milk are on average 6.5% lower with PMR feeding, compared to a Total Mixed Ration (TMR) feeding strategy.
PMR; the best way to feed dairy cows
PMR feeding is based on the principle: feed all cows a basic ration based on the lower producing cows at the feed bunk and add an individual portion of concentrate in the robot according to milk production. The main motivation for cows to visit the robot is concentrate. Lely has learned that optimal visiting behaviour is obtained when the amount of concentrates varies between 2 and 8 kg/cow/day, depending on the milk yield. Feeding too much concentrate in the ration at the feed fence and feeding only a small amount of concentrates in the robot makes cows satiated and lazy. As a consequence, the number of cows to collect will elevate thereby increasing labour requirements.
The figure beneath shows the energy requirements during lactation in comparison with the amount of energy obtained from the ration at the feed fence. It clearly shows that with TMR feeding already half way the lactation cows eat more energy from the ration at the feed fence than their requirements are. From that moment on, the cows are less motivated to visit the robot resulting in collecting more cows. A rule of thumb for the energy content at the feed fence is the average milk production minus 7 kg (15 lbs).
Figure: The number of cows to collect is higher in TMR situations because the energy content at the feed fence is too high. In PMR situations – energy content at the feed fence: average milk production minus 7 kg (15 lbs) - only a few cows need to be collected
If cows produce on average 32 kg (70 lbs) of milk, the ration at the feed fence should be sufficient to support for 32-7 = 25 kg (70-15 = 55 lbs) of milk. This rule of thumb is based on average variations among cows in the herd. As a consequence, the ration fed at the feed fence should even be lower if the milk production between cows shows large variations. If there are only small variations in daily production between the cows, the ration at the feed fence can be balanced higher.
Healthy rumen = healthy and active cow
With PMR feeding cows are provided with relatively high amounts of effective fibre. This fibre motivates the cows to ruminate more. Increased rumination activity also leads to increased activity of the cow resulting in more robot visits. In addition, frequent feed intake of the supplied concentrates results in a steady rumen pH decreasing the incidence of rumen acidosis. During the day the rumen pH shows large variations when cows are provided a TMR (please refer to the figure).
Figure: Development of rumen pH during the day with PMR and TMR feeding
PMR: for optimal and profitable feeding of dairy cows!
A well-balanced ration available 24/7 ensures a healthy rumen and therefore healthier and more durable cows. Cows fed according to their individual requirements produce also more milk during their productive live.
Twenty-four seven grazing possible with Lely Astronaut milking robots
Within the set-up of 100% pasture grazing, robotic milking management requires a completely different set-up for both cow routing and the dairy farm.
In order to stimulate cows to visit the Astronaut, the animals are not only fed in the robot, but also put out to fresh pasture after milking. On the basis of 8 years of experience ‘down under’, we have also adopted ABC grazing. The principle of ABC grazing is to attract the cows back to the Astronaut robot and to reward them with a fresh pasture post milking. To realize this, Lely Grazeway gates are used.
The barn in which the robots are installed comprises mainly two areas: the pre-milking area and the post-milking area. In between, there is, of course, the milking robot. A Grazeway is used to channel the cows to the right area. Cows that need to be milked are directed towards the pre-milking area, whereas cows that do not have to be milked yet are sent directly to the post-milking area. From the post-milking area cows have access to a second Grazeway, which directs the cows to pasture A, B or C depending on the time of day.
Between 01:00 and 9:00 hours, the cows are directed to pasture A, between 09:00 and 17:00 hours to pasture B and between 17:00 and 01:00 hours to pasture C. After a certain period of time, the cows get used to this schedule. Because cows are out at pasture almost 24 hours/day (except during milking), a separation area is highly recommended in this set- up to ensure treatment, veterinarian checks etc. When implementing the ABC grazing setup, the cows are milked 2.2 - 2.7 times per day, which is excellent based on the production level.
How can I contribute towards milk quality?
Throughout the development of the Lely Astronaut robot, milk quality monitoring was a consistent spearhead. The milk quality is analysed with a view to maintaining original milk quality during and after the milking process. We would like to provide a number of tips to ensure optimal milk quality in combination with your milking robot.
In fact, milk quality is determined by two main factors:
Together with you, we would like to go into the second item: technique. Your service engineer is not the only one who knows about technique. Based upon the points of attention raised hereafter, you, too, can judge optimum functioning of your milking robot and milk storage.
Because of bacterial counts, monitoring your barn hygiene is of paramount interest. In relation to your milking robot you can take a number of steps. The first step is to judge the efficiency of main cleaning by measuring the final temperature of the water. The most practical solution is to place a bucket underneath the outlet of the milk delivery line every now and then, to check if the water is warm enough. This water should have a temperature of at least 70 degrees centigrade during 2 minutes.
The next step is a visual inspection of the components listed below. Obviously, these parts should be clean after a main cleaning.
The design of the robot arm is such that the teat cup liners are positioned immediately underneath the spray jetters. When carrying out a cleaning or applying Lely Wash, you can check their correct adjustment.
Butyric acid contents are measured in a number of countries (including the Netherlands). Butyric acid contents are affected, among other things, by the way the milk is processed (pumping, blowing empty, cooling etc.).
Within this process a number of attentions points should be heeded.
The freezing point of milk may be affected by leakages and by water residues after a (main) cleaning. The following points of attention should be heeded.
Try to remain attentive to all matters raised above, throughout your daily work around the milking robot. Make sure that you check the robot during a main cleaning once a week to ensure that it is carried out properly.
The cow – a ruminant:
- A cow ruminates 6 to 10 hours per day
- During rumination, 160-180 litres (45 gal) of saliva are produced – the bicarbonate acts as a rumen buffer
- Feed is fermented by bacteria and protozoa and the reticulum pumps it in and out of the rumen
- In the omasum the feed pulp is grind to absorb water and VFAs (energy for the cow)
- The abomasum in the true stomach where feed particles are digested
The cornerstones of feeding for successful robotic milking:
1. The ration fed at the feed fence is based on the average milk yield per cow minus 7 kg (15 lbs) and should contain at least 40% of DM.
2. A minimum amount of 2 kg (4 lbs) concentrates is provided in the robot to attract cows to visit the robot.
3. The feed speed in T4C is set between 300 and 400 gram/minute (12 oz) to give all cows the opportunity to eat their concentrates during robot visits.
4. The basis of a good ration is: high quality forage; palatable, no contamination with mould or dirt and enough effective fibre.
5. Unrestricted access of all cows to the feed at the feed fence.
6. Unrestricted access of all cows to clean water and a comfortable lying area.
- High yielding cows need to lie down for 12 to 14 hours per day
- Lying down is important because the cow rest, their feet rest and dry off, more space is available in the passageways and because blood circulation to the udder increases with 30%
- Cubicles are a compromise between space and hygiene, but should in all cases be comfortable for the cow to lie down and stand up again
- In a barn 70% of the cows should lie down