Genetic, farm, and lactation effects on behavior and performance of US Holsteins in automated milking systems

J Dairy Sci. 2020 Dec;103(12):11503-11514. doi: 10.3168/jds.2020-18786. Epub 2020 Sep 25.


Selecting for favorable behavior and performance could enhance the efficiency of production in automated milking systems (AMS). The objectives of this study were to describe AMS behavior and performance in Holsteins, estimate genetic parameters among AMS traits, and determine genetic relationships of AMS traits with other routinely recorded traits. The edited data included 1,101,651 individual milking records and 394,636 daily records from 2,531 lactations and 1,714 cows that resided on 3 farms; data were obtained from the Dairy Data Warehouse (Assen, Netherlands) cloud. Traits considered were individual milking and daily totals for milk yield, milking time, milk harvest rate (the ratio of milk yield to milking time), milk flow rate, electrical conductivity, machine kickoffs, incomplete milkings, and blood in milk; the number of milkings per day and 305-d mature-equivalent milk yield (305ME) were also evaluated. Individual milkings were evaluated with mixed models that included fixed effects of week of lactation, lactation group (1, 2, ≥3), hour of day, and farm; random effects included cow within lactation, lactation group by week of lactation, and interactions of farm with date, hour, week of lactation, and year-season of calving. Daily records were evaluated with 3-trait animal models that included 305ME and 2 AMS traits with random additive genetic and permanent environment effects. Estimated breeding values were extracted and correlated with yield, conformation, and udder health genetic evaluations. Farm specific robot access policies had notable effects on week of lactation patterns for milk yield and number of milkings. Mature cows had higher milk harvest rates (2.05 kg/min) than first-lactation cows (1.73 kg/min) with larger differences in early lactation. First-lactation cows were more likely to kick off the machine (15.04%) than mature cows (8.62%), particularly in early lactation. Heritability estimates were generally lower for behavior traits (0.03 for incomplete milkings and 0.08 for kickoffs) than for milk harvest rate (0.30) and flow rate (0.55). Udder conformation traits did not have favorable genetic correlations with AMS traits, with the exception that longer teats were correlated with fewer kickoffs (-0.34) and incomplete milkings (-0.49); increased milk harvest rate and flow rate were unfavorably associated with genetic merit for udder health. There is genetic variation for milking efficiency and behavioral traits, suggesting genetic selection to enhance efficiency in AMS systems is possible. Genetic associations with udder conformation indicate that selection for udder morphology is unlikely to substantially improve milking efficiency. This calls for more direct selection of traits related to AMS efficiency.

Keywords: automated milking system; behavior; heritability; udder conformation.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial, Veterinary

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Automation
  • Behavior, Animal*
  • Cattle
  • Dairying / methods*
  • Farms
  • Female
  • Lactation* / genetics
  • Mammary Glands, Animal
  • Milk*
  • Netherlands
  • Phenotype