Milking speed and genetic evaluation

Author: Maarten Crivits (ILVO) - April 27, 2017

Breeding values can be more efficiently evaluated by taking into account the milking speed. Slow-milking cows might lead to a less efficient use of automatic milking systems (AMS) or may hold up the milking process when many cows are milked in a specific time slot. However, high milking speed has also been correlated to worse udder health, making it important to put an emphasis on an breeding approach that both improves milkability and udder health.

The index of milkability can been defined as ‘average milk yield per total time spent in the milking robot’  or ‘kg milk per minute ‘box’ time’.  Genetic evaluation for milkability is traditionally done by the dairy farmer by subjectively scoring milking speed (e.g. in terms of 3 categories slow – medium – fast). AMS make it possible to accurately register average flow rate (AFR), milking time (MT), box time (BT), handling time and proportion ‘Attachment Failures’, to give higher heritability and more accurate breeding values. So far there have been few genetic studies based  on AMS data, but existing studies do suggest a possibility for an improved genetic analysis.

Milking speed and the bigger picture?

We are curious about whether you take into account milking speed. Do you score milking speed yourself or, if you have a milking robot, do you use the data it provides on how long  each cow spends time in the box?

Or, perhaps taking a necessary step back: what is important for you in genetic selection? A recent study published in the Journal of Dairy Science suggest that the preferences of dairy farmers can be categorized in three groups:

  1. Dairy farmers focusing on ‘production’, going for improvements in protein yield, lactation persistency, feed efficiency, cow live weight, and milking speed.
  2. Dairy farmers focusing on more the functional health of the cow looking for improvements in mastitis, lameness and calving difficulty.
  3. Dairy farmers with a preference to improve the mammary system and type, hoping for a good longevity (preventing involuntary culling).

Do you recognize yourself in one of these types or do you think that important things might be missed here?