Robotic feed pusher: Future driver of dry matter intake?

Posted on July 11, 2014 in Dairy Performance
By Kary Babb
In today’s dairy industry, technology is evermore integral to the management and care of dairy herds worldwide.  Increasingly, producers are saying goodbye to manual labor, allowing them to focus their time on other projects.

First, we saw a huge change to the industry when robotic milking systems became available.  Since then, an abundance of new technology devices has emerged, including automatic calf feeders, robotic feeding systems and the robotic feed pusher.

But with all this technology, it always comes down to one basic question:  Does it work?

This past spring, through my Vita Plus dairy technical extended internship, I was given the opportunity to do a research study using the Lely Juno 100 robotic feed pusher.  The objective of this study was to compare dry matter intake between groups whose feed was pushed up using a skidloader and groups whose feed was pushed up with the Lely Juno 100.  Would the robot increase dry matter intake and, subsequently, the milk production of the herd?

The research was conducted at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville’s Pioneer Farm.  The farm has a 200-cow freestall barn with three groups of milking cows and one group of dry cows.  The study was divided into three periods over four months.  Feed was pushed up with the skidloader the first month, followed by use of the robot for two months, followed again by a month of using the skidloader.

During the study, dry matter of the TMR was analyzed daily along with the production of each group.  This data was then used at the end of the trial to answer the question of whether the robot helped increase dry matter intake and, specifically, milk production.

The results were somewhat disappointing.  After compiling the data, the trial showed no significant change in milk production and only a slight change in dry matter intake.  But we need to consider more than just numbers and a couple graphs.

The overall eating behavior of the cows changed during the robot period.  Cows were eating smaller amounts of feed more frequently.  This allowed them to have more time for socializing and lying down.  It also helped with a more consistent rumination pattern.  It helped lower sorting of feed due to more frequent push-up times, and it also saved on labor cost, time, and fuel.

So, with all these positives, why did we not see a positive on milk production? 

This farm has been well managed prior to implementing the Lely Juno 100.  Feed was pushed up at least six times a day using the skidloader, compared to some operations that only push up feed one or two times per day.  Throughout the study, a big variation of weather also likely played a role in dry matter intake.  Finally, at the end of the study, a large number of fresh cows coming in helped increase the milk production of the herd.

Taking all of this into consideration, it may be hard to persuade a producer to make a financial commitment to the Lely Juno 100.  However, this trial did show some benefits to the technology and future research could provide better insight, leading to a more confident decision when looking to purchase this new technology.

About the author:  Kary Babb currently holds the Vita Plus Dairy Technical Extended Internship in partnership with the University of Wisconsin-Platteville.  This opportunity stretches over two semesters and a summer, providing experience in dairy nutrition and management consulting.  Babb is a native of Durand, Wisconsin and a senior at UW-Platteville, where she is majoring in animal science with an emphasis in science and agribusiness.  At UW-Platteville, she is a member of the Sigma Alpha Professional Agricultural Sorority, Block ‘n’ Bridle, Equestrian Club, Ski and Snowboarding Club, and Collegiate Farm Bureau.

Category: Dairy Performance
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