Dairy School: Optimizing health and welfare in robot herds

Milking with single-box automated milking systems (AMS) has revolutionized the way dairy producers manage their herds.

Current estimates indicate that 10 percent of the Canadian dairy herd are now milked by automated systems, and it’s growing. Globally, nearly 30,000 farms employ robots, according to a 2014 survey.

Much of the conversation around dairy robots focus on how they make the grind of daily milking less stressful for producers and reduce the need for labour as employees willing to work on farm become harder to find. From a cow health and welfare perspective, it’s generally acknowledged that AMS systems give cows more freedom to control how they spend their time and perform desired behaviours.

In this episode of RealAgriculture’s Dairy School, we take a closer look at the overall health and welfare of cows milked in robot systems with Trevor DeVries, animal biosciences professor at the University of Guelph. At the recent Western Canadian Dairy Seminar at Red Deer, Alta., DeVries noted that robots present both health and welfare challenges and opportunities, but overall, producers are doing a good job of managing their herds. One of the biggest challenges is maintaining adequate milking frequency and managing ‘fetch’ cows. Feed management as well as attention to bedding and hygiene are also key to maintaining good hoof health, body condition and cow comfort.

In the video, DeVries, who studies how dairy cows perform and behave in a robot system at his university’s dairy research facility near Elora, Ont., identifies impediments to good health and welfare and offers tips on how to mitigate these challenges. He also offers insight on how producers can use the tremendous amount of data and information captured in robot systems to fine tune their management.

Click here for more Dairy School episodes.

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