Getting more out of robotic feed tables
By Amelie Mainville, Dairy Nutrition and Tech Services Director
When discussing robotic milking systems, what does it mean to leverage the economics of the feed table? First, let’s define these terms as they relate to robotic milking and feeding.
- Feed Table: A chart defining the amount of feed distributed daily to the cows based on days in milk (DIM) and/or production level.
- Economics: The relation between the feed table setting based on feed amount/cost versus income from milk production at varied DIM.
Essentially, “leveraging the economics of the feed table for robotic milking” means investing in feed allowance at the onset of lactation and peak milk according to your herd’s lactation curves. This saves on feed costs during the mid and end lactation phases while capitalizing on your herd’s peak milk production.
Let the lactation curve guide you
When looking at a dairy’s lactation curves, I first identify how high cows are peaking and when. This is where you can tell if feed tables are limiting a cow’s production or aiding her full potential. For example, I will see robotic herds peaking early at 25 to 30 DIM because that is what the feed table limits. These cows essentially are being held back because they don’t receive the nutrients needed to reach the expected peak milk at 50 to 90 DIM, depending on their number of lactations.
Robotic feeding allows for more control over the exact nutrients each cow receives. Using the lactation curve, and if need be, different grouping for lactation numbers, you can manage pellet allowance and lead animals to a higher and longer peak.
Validate feed tables with your consultant and ration formulation system
- Know exactly what is in your partially mixed ration (PMR)
- Record correct dry matter (DM) on all ingredients
- Feed to accurate cow numbers per group
- Calculate actual dry matter intake (DMI)
With both customer and prospect dairies, when I evaluate the feed tables I build the actual PMR in my MAX™ system for dairy, a formulation program. Understanding what is in each bite of PMR a cow will consume on farm is key. This allows me to mimic intake of both PMR and robot feed for all ranges of cows that are not close to the average. Using the MAX formulating software, I then calculate projected energy and amino acid milk production for each scenario. Doing this, I can ensure that high producing cows can be as economical as possible on the feed table without limiting their potential. Additionally, I can ensure that low producing cows can be as economical as possible on the feed table without creating fetch cows.
Ask your nutrition consultant to evaluate different cow scenarios and the associated predicted milk because that is where the savings reside.
Check additional robotic parameters
- Rest Feed
- Feed Consumed
When a cow goes to the milking robot but is not allowed to get milked or receive feed, it is called a refusal. The ideal range expected is between 1 to 1.5 refusals per cow per day. Refusals matter because there is a direct correlation between refusals, PMR availability, and energy levels. For example, if refusals are high this may be an indication that cows are seeking additional DMI or energy. After evaluation of visit/milking’s, free time, and access parameters you may choose to alter feed tables to maximize visits and production or ration cost savings, whichever is the greater opportunity.
Leveraging the economics of your robotic feed tables can be achieved through proper nutrition that aligns with your herd’s lactation curves. Having a clear picture of your herd’s production as well as managing what nutrients your feeding will lend itself to cost savings opportunities and improved efficiency.
Read the full article, Leveraging the economics of your robotic feed tables, published in Progressive Dairy.