Feeding management in robotic dairies is all about meeting the goals of the dairy. Although this is true on all dairies, the University of Minnesota’s Jim Salfer described it as especially noteworthy on dairies with automatic milking systems.

“It’s important to understand why robots are being installed. Some farms don’t want to fetch cows, so they should feed less energy in the bunk,” he shared at the recent Penn State Dairy Cattle Nutrition Workshop. “The cows should be fed very differently on the other hand if the farm wants to push milk.”

During his presentation, Salfer highlighted some of the other nutritionally driven lessons his team has learned while working with robotic dairies during the last 10 or so years.

Milk per robot is what makes the money. The best robotic farms, according to Salfer, are well below 10 percent downtime per robot per day. Those operations have higher cows per robot and milk per cow.

Cows like pellets. Visits to the robots are higher when farms provide pellets as opposed to ground options.

More energy in the PMR means more fetch cows. However, even the combination of pelleted feed in the robot and low bunk energy (in the PMR or Partial Mixed Ration) will not entice some cows to the robot. They will remain permanent fetch cows.

Initially, around 50 percent of all cows that are culled are culled for nonrobot adaptability. Salfer suggests this number should actually be even higher as cows that are perpetually fetch cows are a waste of labor and should be candidates for sale to nonrobotic dairies.

Fresh cows demand attention. Fresh cows typically need to be fetched upon introduction to the robots. Salfer suggests fetching three times per day on new milkers. He also stressed the importance of monitoring their rumination activity and manure consistency. Low palatability of the PMR paired with lead feeding fresh cows in the robot can cause a drop-off in dry matter intake.

“Consistency is incredibly important. That’s more important on a robotic farm,” Salfer concluded. “You have to be a better manager with robots. It’s a science-art.”

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(c) Hoard's Dairyman Intel 2016
November 21, 2016

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