Nine cow touches
A solid foundation in combination with automatic milking is built upon five basic principles: free cow traffic, cow health, robot accessibility, space and feed management. When these are organized well, the nine cow touches during lactation (figure above) are achieved most efficiently. A cow touch can take anywhere 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. A side effect of more and/or longer 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.
Feeding strategy and average lactation days
A Partial Mixed Ration (PMR) is important. The rule of thumb is to feed at the feed fence up to the average herd milk production minus 7 kg. The remainder is fed by concentrates in the milking robot and, if needed, in a separate concentrate box. 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 also important. In figure 1, two herds with an average of 160 and 190 lactation days are compared in combination with almost the same peak production.
If an equal ration is fed to these herds, we 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.
There is an equal level of peak production. The dotted lines represent the energy level fed at the feed fence. When looking towards the end of lactation we see that the farm with on average 190 lactation days has 37% of the cows below the energy need that is offered at the feed fence (green line): cows which have no need to visit the robot. This results in a potentially higher labor requirement. This is 22% more than the farm with on average 160 lactation days.
Basic management, key figures and feeding should be in place before even considering the next step in optimization. In addition, choosing a clear strategic management direction plays a vital role. Your Farm Management Support advisor can support you when deciding the long term strategic choice. It is essential to consider the pros and cons carefully.