Robotic milking: Feeding strategies and economic returns

J Dairy Sci. 2017 Sep;100(9):7720-7728. doi: 10.3168/jds.2016-11694. Epub 2017 Feb 16.


Cows in herds equipped with conventional milking parlors follow a structured, consistent, and social milking and feeding routine. Furthermore, in most cases cows in conventional herds receive all their nutrients from a total mixed ration, whereas in herds equipped with robotic or automatic milking systems (AMS) a fraction of their nutrients is provided during milking, mainly as a means to attract cows to the milking system. In this regards, AMS present both a challenge and an opportunity for feeding cows. The main challenge resides in maintaining a minimum and relatively constant milking frequency in AMS. However, milking frequency is dependent on many factors, including the social structure of the herd, the farm layout design, the type of traffic imposed to cows, the type of flooring, the health status of the cow (especially lameness, but also mastitis, metritis, among others), the stage of lactation, the parity, and the type of ration fed at the feed bunk and the concentrate offered in the AMS. Uneven milk frequency has been associated with milk losses and increased risk of mastitis, but most importantly it is a lost opportunity for milking the cow and generating profit. On the other hand, the opportunity from AMS resides in the possibility of milking more frequently and feeding cows more precisely or more closely to their nutrient needs on an individual basis, potentially resulting in a more profitable production system. But, feeding cows in the parlor or AMS has many challenges. On one side, feeding starchy, highly palatable ingredients in large amounts may upset rumen fermentation or alter feeding behavior after milking, whereas feeding high-fiber concentrates may compromise total energy intake and limit milking performance. Nevertheless, AMS (and some milking parlors, especially rotary ones) offer the possibility of feeding the cows to their estimated individual nutrient needs by combining different feeds on real time with the aim of maximizing profits rather than milk yield. This approach requires that not only the amount of feed offered to each cow but also the composition of the feed vary according to the different nutrient needs of the cows. This review discusses the opportunities and pitfalls of milking and feeding cows in an AMS and summarizes different feeding strategies to maximize profits by managing the nutrition of the cows individually.

Keywords: automated milking system; feeding strategies; optimization; precision; robotic milking.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cattle
  • Dairying / economics
  • Dairying / methods*
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Feeding Methods / veterinary*
  • Female
  • Lactation
  • Milk
  • Robotics / instrumentation
  • Robotics / methods*