Feeding Transition Cows in a Robotic System

Dr. Mike Brouk, Professor, Kansas State University & Nancy Charlton, DVM, DeLaval Dairy Advisor

The role of the transition cow in robotics is no different than in any other milking system. A good transition program minimizes calving difficulties and metabolic and infectious diseases.

The diet for a transition cow in a robot is influenced by a variety of factors, including grouping, dry-off strategy, cow traffic and production expectations. By acclimating heifers and previously un-trained cows to the robot during the dry period and using the correct settings on the robot, you can ensure a consistent diet that lends itself to your goals for your herd.

Dry-off strategy and grouping

The goal of the dry cow period remains the same as in a conventional system: dry off the cow at a Body Condition Score (BCS) of 3.5 to 3.75 and hold the cow at that condition. The transition period for a dairy cow is defined as three weeks pre-calving and three weeks post-calving. A separate pen and feed ration are utilized for these two groups of cattle. On larger farms, these groups may be further subdivided into pre-fresh heifers and pre-fresh cows. Rations for these two pre-fresh groups are generally different and there are significant differences in dry matter intake between the heifers and cows. There are differences in mineral content and there may also be differences in the kinds and amounts of other feed additives. 

Recommendations pre-calving:

  1. Maximum 80% stocking density for feedbunk space
  2. Clean, dry stalls or packs at all times to minimize bacterial challenges and to keep the immune system healthy
  3. Maintaining dry matter intake to reduce metabolic disease

Cow traffic

Different cow traffic designs (free-flow, guided or semi-guided systems), may also have an influence on the balance of nutrients between the partial mixed ration (PMR) and feed received in the robot. One of the critical factors to consider in this balance is the purpose of the feed in the robot. Is the robot feed important for attracting the cow to the robot, keeping the cow comfortable while milked, supplemental nutrition, or all of these factors? All of these should be considered, but the most important is to create a stable feeding experience in the robot. 

We utilize robotic milking systems to standardize the milking process and should consider standardizing the feeding that occurs in the system. In general, early lactation cows or cows with greater expected milk in the udder are given milking permission sooner than later lactation or lower expected milk cows. We should focus on creating a consistent feeding experience every time an early lactation cow has milking permission and presents for milking

Production expectations

Post-calving, the animals will be fed a PMR and a limited amount of feed while being milked in the robot.  The amount of feed offered in the robot will vary based on the number of milkings per day and various system settings that control the total amount available per day, the total amount available at each milking visit, dispensing speed and length of feeding. This can be further refined by lactation number of the animal and the level of milk production. Settings that allow cows additional feed if there are longer times between milkings, will generally start increasing the time between milkings in relationship to the amount of feed available. Generally, animals will start to adapt after 2-3 weeks when this occurs.

Proper nutrition during the transition period will encourage cows to visit the robot as many as five to six times per day. In addition to traffic flow and feed quality, settings on the robot should be adjusted to accommodate the additional milkings needed in early lactation. Proper settings can have a major influence on daily visits and ultimately, milk production over the entire lactation, and a team effort between the nutritionist, robotic specialist and farm staff will help ensure a productive lactation.

Click here to read the full article published by Progressive Dairy.

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