Ration formulation is an important part of finding success in a robotic milking system. The right feed helps cows make milk, keeps them healthy, and encourages visits to the robot, which is vital in this voluntary milking situation.

Cows in robotic or automated milking systems are typically fed a partial mixed ration (PMR). It is a partial ration, rather than a total mixed ration, because cows are often receiving some feed each time they visit the robot. While this offering of nutrients allows farms to precisely manage feeding based on production or stage of lactation, the ration delivered in the feedbunk is at the core of the feeding program.

“We want really high-quality PMR,” noted Jim Salfer, a University of Minnesota extension specialist. “Try to get as much nutrition as possible in that PMR,” he said during the May Hoard’s Dairyman monthly webinar.

What is fed to cows as they are being milked in the robot has traditionally been in a pelleted form. Salfer said some farms tried using a meal in their robot feeders more than a decade ago with subpar results. In a University of Minnesota study conducted back in 2012, Salfer said most farms that attempted to use meal returned to pellet feeding.

Using meal in the feeders of automated milking systems has gotten a second wind, though, driven at least in part by the financial situation farms have experienced in recent years, explained Salfer. With a few tweaks, farms are now reporting success with this method of feeding, in the form of more robot visits, greater milk production, and cost savings. The amount of money that can be saved by farm will vary, but Salfer said some farms report saving 30 to 40 cents or more per cow per day.

Of course, the feed must work with the farm’s system. “You need a meal that flows well,” Salfer stated. This means avoiding ingredients, such as added fat, that affect flowability.

He also advised feeding an amount of meal the cow will consume. “Cows can’t eat meal as fast as they can eat a pellet,” he shared. Salfer said a cow can eat roughly 1 pound of pellets in a minute, while meal would be closer to half a pound per minute.

Maintain a consistent particle size with the meal. Salfer noted that these meals are usually ground pretty fine. One negative of meal feeding, he said, is that the robot room will be consistently dustier because of these fine particles.

He encouraged farmers to calibrate their feeding equipment often, no matter what system or feed is used.

Meal will work best in feed delivery systems that minimize right angled corners; angles of 45 degrees are preferred, Salfer said. Attaching vibrators to the pipes also helps prevent feed from bridging. It doesn’t take much; Salfer recommended putting the vibrator on a timer and running it for one or two seconds every 10 minutes. “You may need to experiment where it needs to go,” he said. “Think about where the pinch points are.”

To learn more, watch the Hoard’s Dairyman webinar, “Managing and feeding cows in a robotic milking system.” This webinar was sponsored by AMS Galaxy.

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(c) Hoard's Dairyman Intel 2024
May 23, 2024
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