Getting it Right when Balancing Partial Mixed Rations
By: Matt Leak, Dairy Focus Consultant
I’ve been balancing rations for robotic milking herds for more than six years, and one of the biggest challenges is getting the amount of dry matter (DM) intake correct. We now have to account for what the cows will eat in the partial mixed ration (PMR) and at the robot, while recognizing that each cow will consume a different amount at the robot, as it correlates to her milk production in real time.
Accounting for DM intake at the bunk and robot… In a traditional herd, a cow making 100 pounds of milk might be eating 60 pounds of DM from the TMR. However, in a robot herd, a cow making 100 pounds of milk might be eating 40 pounds of DM from the PMR and 20 pounds of DM from the concentrate at the robot. Each cow can consume a different amount each day at the robot, based on her milk production. If we don’t have the forage-to-concentrate ratio right, we’re putting ourselves at risk for serious trouble with acidosis.
Balancing PMR for increased number of milkings… In a free flow robot system, there is a direct correlation between the number of visits to the robot and the amount of milk a cow produces. I see fresh cows milking five to six times at the robot and it has really driven an increase in production. This goes to show just how crucial getting your PMR right is.
Managing feed quality, logistics, and storage… The best way to avoid cows going off feed is to avoid feeding bad forage at all. If a dairy is going to spend money on robots and expect extra milk, they have to be putting the time and investment into producing high quality forage, or they will never be able to fully benefit from the robot system. Along with this, consider the logistical set-up and storage area. If you are feeding a pellet at the robot, consider how often you will need to fill the bin with pellets, how often the feed company will be able to deliver the pellets to your location, and how much of a supply cushion you want when unpredictable situations arise, such as snow storms.
Work with a nutritionist early to discuss a feeding strategy. If you make sure forage quality is where it needs to be and understand the additional storage capacity and logistics for the robot feed, your dairy can successfully implement this exciting technology.
To make sure everyone stays safe on a robotic milking dairy, read this post on Handling Cattle around Robotic Milkers.