Nine cow touches
A solid foundation is built upon the five basic principles: free cow traffic, cow health, robot accessibility, space and feed management. When these are organized well, the nine cow touches (figure 1) during lactation are achieved most efficiently. A cow touch can take from 5 up to 45 minutes. It is most efficient to have 150 minutes/cow/lactation, which is possible when everything is in place such as a treatment box and separation area. One of the biggest disadvantages of more cow touches is the disturbance to the herd, which can affect the visit behavior of the cows towards the milking robot. In addition, every extra touch will cost labor.
Figure 1, nine cow touches
Feeding strategy and average lactation days
Together with robotic milking and free cow traffic, a partial mixed ration (PMR) is important. The rule of thumb is to feed the average milk production minus 15.4 lbs energy at the feed fence. This stimulates cows to visit the robot voluntarily and prevents cows from being collected in late lactation. In relation to this, the average number of lactation days is important. In figure 2 we compare two herds with an average of 160 and 190 lactation days in combination with almost the same peak production.
If an equal ration is fed to these herds, we will notice that more cows need to be collected within the herd of 190 lactation days on average. The cows in the late stages of lactation are at risk of fattening and are potentially cows for collection, which involves an increase in labor.
Basic management, key figures and feeding should be in place before even considering the next step. Choosing a clear strategic management direction plays a vital role in this: for example, the choice between peak production or persistence. With peak production, a low calving interval is important, while with a more persistent herd, a higher energy ration at the feed fence and less concentrates in the milking robot are possible. When deciding the long-term strategic choice, carefully consider the pros and cons.