Influence of provision of concentrate at milking on voluntary cow traffic in a pasture-based automatic milking system

V E Scott, P C Thomson, K L Kerrisk, S C Garcia
Journal of Dairy Science 2014, 97 (3): 1481-90
The success of an automatic milking system is generally reliant upon the voluntary movement of cows around the farm system and the correct management of incentives to achieve a targeted level of cow traffic. The present study investigated the effect of providing a small feed reward as an incentive at milking on the premilking voluntary waiting time of cows milked on a prototype robotic rotary in an Australian pasture-based dairy. The 2 treatments were "feed on" (concentrate offered at milking) and "feed off" (no concentrate offered at milking), with data from a single herd of 168 lactating dairy cows collected over 16d. A survival analysis with time-varying covariates was used to model the voluntary waiting times of cows in the premilking yard. The median time cows spent waiting before milking was 129 min and after 4h just over 70% of the cows had exited the yard (volunteered for milking). When feed was provided, cows were faster to exit the premilking yard (shorter time spent waiting) and waited just over half the time (0.53×) they did during the "feed off" treatment. Heifers exited the premilking yard more rapidly than cows in later lactations, with older cows spending at least 1.40 times longer in the yard before milking. Average daily milk yield along with stage of lactation and fetching cows from the paddock also influenced cow traffic in the premilking yard. As the number of cows in the premilking yard increased, voluntary waiting time also increased. At a queue length of 20 or more cows, the negative effect on waiting time of an additional cow entering the yard was less than that when fewer than 20 cows were present. Results demonstrated that feeding a small reward on the robotic rotary platform can reduce the time cows spend in the premilking yard, leading to a potential reduction in the risk of congestion at the dairy, particularly during times of high demand. Minimizing congestion will likely benefit multiple aspects of the voluntary milking operation, including a potential improvement in robot utilization, a reduction in unnecessary time spent off pasture by cows in the milking herd, promoting cow welfare through reducing the risk of lameness, and enhancing productivity. Targeting strategies to minimize queue length to less than the threshold length, which in this study was 20 cows, could result in reduced time spent in the premilking yard.

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