IRELAND – New research could solve a burning question in dairy farming technology; how to suit automated milking systems (AMS) to a grazing herd.
Irish researchers are running tests on a small herd in County Cork to solve why grazing and automated milking (AM) rarely mix.
Several practical issues exist when combining robotic milking and grazing, according to Teagasc researchers Dr Bernadette O’Brien and Dr Cathriona Foley who are overseeing research done on the 70 cow herd at Teagasc’s Moorepark study farm.
They point to previous studies across Europe which show how logistical problems are threatening the development of the sector as clear technological benefits elude many pasture farms.
Dr Foley said: “These include: reduced labour input; management tasks as opposed to manual labour; ability to expand cow numbers on fragmented land bases; and increased knowledge of cow performance data to use as a management tool.”
"It is envisaged that up to 20 per cent of cows in Europe will be milked automatically by 2020," said Dr Foley. "However, while indoor feeding systems have been well adapted to AM, cow grazing systems have not."
She added that the inability to capture technological benefits is an ‘undesirable trend’ in the competitive world of grass-based production.
Hindrances are varied, according to Dr O’Brien, who said initiating cow movement to the AM unit is often the first challenge.
Other practical issues are managing peak milk production in a seasonal calving herd and maximising AMS usage and minimising cow queuing times.
“The grass allocation was critical to optimal cow visits to the AM unit,” explained Dr O’Brien. “Overall, the integrated AM and grazing system operated satisfactorily, but significant further research is required.”
Importantly, the duo stressed that automatic milking has to make financial sense if it is going to be widely used.
Dr Foley said: “The economic viability of AM will determine how widely the technology will be adopted.”
“A major challenge with automatic milking currently is the high capital cost but the concept of combining automatic milking and cow grazing has potential advantages, which could have a positive impact on the dairy industry in Ireland in the long term.”
Getting Cows Milked
Grazing management is critical to the smooth running of Teagasc’s AMS and grass coverage of 1,400-1,500kg DM/ha is the aim for May and June.
“Grass covers greater than 1,500kg DM/ha would discourage cow movement to the AM unit and may reduce milking frequency,” explained Dr Foley.
The trial has split the herd of Friesian, Jersey-Friesian and Norwegian Reds into two groups of 35 to explore milking frequency on total output.
The cows are strip grazed on three portions of 8 hectare pasture over a 24 hour period named A,B and C and moved to an adjacent to the next portion at 8am, 4pm and midnight.
The team explained that this three-tier system, which sees each cow eat 5kg DM in each section, is critical for optimising AMS visits.
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