GREEN BAY – Alltech’s recent dairy school focused on using technology to improve cow management and milk production.
The keynote speaker was Professor Trevor DeVries, currently Research Chair in Dairy Cattle Behavior and Welfare at the University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada.
DeVries is currently investigating how optimizing nutrient delivery in dairy cows can help meet industry demand and increase production without over-supplementing their feed.
He noted that many people associate technology on 21st-century dairy farms with robotic milking, but stressed that precision dairy management also includes technologies designed to automate other tasks such as cleaning, bedding, fanning and feeding.
DeVries emphasized that labor shortages will be the driving force behind the implementation of technology on North American dairy farms in the future. “In response to that, we are seeing the development of technology and automation at an exponential rate,” he said.
The technology can reduce labor costs and at the same time improve the quality of life of the producer with respect to the management of the dairy herd.
“It can help create better physical and mental health by reducing stress, providing more flexibility in managing your time, especially for owner-operators who do a lot of the milking, as well as improving the health and comfort of their animals. “, said.
“The use of precision technology must also make economic sense by providing a profitable return on investment,” he said.
DeVries noted that most producers feed cows at the herd level. “They need to think about how they can use technology to best achieve this,” he said, “but precision feeding technology also allows producers to feed animals on an individual basis.”
Producers must also keep accuracy and precision in mind when it comes to feeding cattle. “Are we providing diets that might not be as accurate to the formulation that we actually intend those diets to be?” DeVries asked.
He reported that a recent research study revealed that some diets exceeded the RMR for formulated values for a variety of nutrients, but also that some diets were underfeeding specific nutrients.
“We saw a lot of variance: some were feeding too much energy relative to the formulation, while others were not. Some underfeeded crude protein by an average of 0.4 percentage points in the formulation,” DeVries explained.
Feed samples from a study conducted at 25 large California dairies showed deviations of up to 10 percent from the target diet and also revealed variations in ROI related to the cost of their feed. “Our challenge is to make sure that the feed delivered actually matches the diet that is formulated.” he said.
Causes of deviation
Variations from the specific diet may be due to how often the dry matter is fed, according to DeVries. “In some farms dry matter is fed once a day, in some once a week and in others only once a month,” he recounted.
“The more often we feed dry matter, the more control we have over our ingredients, the more we can potentially match what is actually included in that diet to what we think is included in the diet,” he emphasized.
Another cause of feeding variations can be due to inadequate feeding protocols. “We need every feeder to do the same thing day after day,” DeVries emphasized.
Being able to track whether the actual food matches the target diet is key to efficient eating. “We can do this manually, but the good news is that we have technology that can help make monitoring more efficient while saving time.”
“We have NIR (Near Infrared) systems now on self-propelled mixers that can monitor dry matter in real time and allow the system software to automatically adjust the discharge rate and the amount of feed that goes into those diets to make sure they are as accurate as possible,” DeVries explained.
It is also important for producers to know if their cows are receiving a consistent diet. “We also need to know how much the diet varies from day to day and how it affects milk production,” he said. “We’ve seen a 6.6-pound difference in dry matter intake based on variance in feeding, and we’ve seen a 21-pound difference in milk production based on variability in daily feeding.”
Differences in milk production can be attributed to genetics, rations, and other factors. “Just making sure her diet is more consistent every day could be an important component in trying to get those extra pounds of milk off the cows,” DeVries suggested.
“Not only did we see the relationship between feed intake and production, but we also saw the same thing with feed efficiency. The farms that produced more milk with less feed did so on constant diets on a daily basis,” he reported.
“One of the things we know is that dairy cows love behaviorally consistency, with a milking routine,” DeVries said. “We want consistency in how we house cows, we manage cows, we milk cows. The more consistent we can keep her diet, the better her health will be and the more efficient her milk production will be.”
The other important aspect of consistency is making sure the cows are actually eating their feed. “It is important to have high-quality forages because that will directly affect the feeding behavior of the cows. A more digestible forage results in a quicker return to feed, which translates to more meals per day, more feed intake and more milk,” she said.
He noted that there are currently many technology options to automate these processes that eliminate some of the human factors that lead to variations, while improving daily accuracy and consistency with the cows’ diet.
According to DeVries, proper feed delivery can provide a great incentive for cows to go to the feeder. “If we provide feed more frequently during the day, we can help increase production. Fatty acid composition is directly related to the rumen environment of cows in terms of digestion and acidosis production and prevention,” she said.
“Farms that fed cows at least three times a day had higher milk production, suggesting a more consistent intake pattern and rumen environment,” he said.
time for technology
The challenge for many farms is figuring out that they could incorporate technology specifically to recognize when there is not enough feed in the trough or when feed is not well distributed among the cows throughout the day, according to DeVries.
“Tracking the presence or absence of feed and the timing of feed delivery is necessary to help determine if delivery is occurring consistently,” he said. “The technology can also be used to formulate a specific diet based on their lactation time and to tailor a specific diet for high-producing cows.”
DeVries reported that the technology can also help producers look at individual cows from different perspectives, including their health, behavior, activity patterns, and identify conditions that require better cow maintenance.
Summing up, he said: “Job challenges will continue to fuel the need for automation in the dairy industry and technology choices, including creating greater precision in diet preparation, feed delivery and ensuring cows have enough access to food so that they have enough food consumption. to achieve optimal milk production.