Welcome to Lely Center Mid-Atlantic’s January blog post! I’m Justin Ayers, and I joined the team in June 2023 with a diverse background in the dairy industry, including experience as a herd manager on a 2,700 head dairy, repro tech specialist, farm machinery salesman, and now, a capital salesman for Lely Center Mid-Atlantic. Today, we’re delving into the fascinating world of genetics and how it impacts the performance of milking robots on your dairy farm. So, let’s get started!
Transitioning to robotic milking is a game-changer, but not every cow in your herd is suited for this technology. Some cows simply don’t fit the bill due to their physical attributes. Short teats, udder confirmation issues, and even behavioral concerns can pose challenges to the efficiency and profitability of a robotic system. Much like rotary efficiency is expressed in a “turns/hour” basis, robotic cost effectiveness is typically expressed in a “pounds of milk per robot per day” basis. The average output of US Farms with robots is 4,125 pounds per robot per day, with some producers reaching more than 7,000 pounds per robot per day! The higher this number, the lower your fixed cost per pound of milk. Genetics, along with management factors, play a significant role in achieving this goal.
My collegiate dairy judging coach’s mantra for finding the best cow was to seek a “Good uddered, dairy cow, with sound feet and legs and adequate size, width, and length.” While these attributes are valuable for all dairy producers, they are especially critical for those using robotic systems. Let’s break down the essential factors of a good udder, dairyness, and sound feet and legs and understand how they benefit a robot.
– A high udder floor with strong attachments contributes to a cow’s longevity in the herd and ensures successful attachments in subsequent lactations.
– Moderately sized teats, placed squarely on the quarter, aid the robot’s laser in quickly and accurately finding and attaching the milker, reducing failures and total box time.
– A level udder floor minimizes attachment failures. Reverse udder tilts, particularly in 2-year-olds, are some of the most problematic udders for the robot to attach to.
– Milky dairy cows are more likely to visit the robot more frequently due to higher feed-to-milk conversion rates and a willingness to be milked. The lazier and heavier a cow becomes; the more fetching may be required.
**Sound Feet and Legs:**
– Sound feet and legs are one of the most critical factors in a robotic dairy herd. Unlike in a parlor, we are not bringing the herd to the robot three times a day. Cows need to be comfortable and sound on their feet in order to voluntarily walk to the robot.
– Sound feet and legs also contribute to a cow’s longevity, allowing her to reach her full potential in the robot.
In addition to these external, phenotypic traits, producers should consider less obvious but equally important factors like milk speed. Breeding for higher milking speeds reduces box time, allowing more cows per robot. Focusing on your herds efficiency traits years before installing robots will have huge benefits to you down the road. We have a producer who installed robots 10 years ago when the thought was that you could only milk 60 cows on a robot and therefore built his barn with 55 stalls. He spent his early years in robots being super critical of his herds milk speed and became so efficient that his herd was averaging 100 pounds of milk per cow per day with 63 cows per robot. In his case, his limiting factor became the number of stalls he had in his barn! There’s a lot to be said for an efficient herd or robot cows!
So, whether you find yourself already immersed in the world of robotic milking, or still mulling over the prospect, the emphasis on optimizing genetics clearly emerges as the lynchpin to success. By laying the groundwork now, you position yourself for a future where technology and genetics coalesce seamlessly, steering your farm towards a brighter future in farming.