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Feed is an essential part of management on every dairy farm. It is well known that feed is the largest cost in milk production and feeding directly influences animal performance and health status. Efficient feed management including feeding equipment, data collection technology and assurance is therefore very important for every dairy farmer.
Automatic Feeding Systems
Constantly improving precision technology, automatic identification and computing have made it possible to feed individual animals regardless of the housing system or the herd size. In 2015 more than 1,250 automatic feeding systems were used worldwide. Sensors and technologies such as rumination and feeding sensors provide an insight into feed intake, dry matter intake and feed efficiency. This enables better monitoring and efficient use of rations.
Robotic feeders are systems that automatically load, mix and deliver fresh feed all day, every day around the farm. A robotic feeder provides a continuous availability of fresh feed, which results in increased dry matter intake and increased milk production. In addition, frequent feeding has a positive impact on general animal health.
Available Sensors and Technologies
Robotic feeders combine a number of different types of sensors and technologies to improve feed management. Sensors included in robotic feeders:
- Weight sensor : the weight sensor makes it easier to put an accurate ration into the automatic feeder. This sensor measures the weight of the feed and sends the results to the users screen.
- Feed height sensor: the feed height sensor identifies the quantity of feed and tops it up if necessary. The robot determines whether fresh feed is necessary, and if so how much.
- Concentrate feeder with weight sensor: Concentrate feeders with weight sensors measuring the weight of individual cows. So individual cows receive individual portions of concentrates based on individual requirements. When the weight is changed the concentrate quantity automatically changes. There are also walk over scale available to monitor individual trends in weight loss/gain.
Other technologies used to improve feeding management and efficiency:
- Rumination sensor: Rumination sensors records the number of minutes each cow spends eating, rumination and grazing by listening for sounds of rumination and cud chewing, or by monitoring the movements of the head with an accelerometer.
- Body condition score camera: Monitoring body weight can be useful to predict dry matter intake as well as changes in body condition. Automated weighing systems are widespread and new technologies performing automated body condition scoring have emerged, so frequent automated BW and BCS measurements are feasible.
- pH bolus: the pH bolus is designed to provide a continuous measurement of ruminal pH of cows. In the farm situation the boluses are often used in sentinel cows to monitor and optimise feeding regimes.
- Urea meter: The urea values given an indication of the balance between protein and fat in the diet and monitor feeding efficiency.