SLU news

Automatic milking of grazing cows

Published: 25 April 2013

A group of research institutions, extension organizations and farmers in Europe has started a comprehensive research project to find the best combination of automatic milking systems and grazing.

Automatic milking systems (AMS) are becoming more common in Europe. Meanwhile, there is a general tendency for a decrease in the number of grazing. This implies an economic loss, since grazing is a cheap and high quality feed source that animals themselves collect. The project AUTOGRASSMILK aims to find practical solutions for farmers who want to combine automatic milking with grazing.

AUTOGRASSMILK runs for three years and has participants from 6 countries; Ireland (coordinating), the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Denmark and Sweden. The plan is also to develop various decision support systems (DSS) where the farmer should be able to load data from the farm and see how the outcome will be different with alternative grazing options on the farm. When the systems are developed, they will be available from the project website as well as in reports with experimental results.

In the Swedish part of the project, Eva Spörndly (Dept. of Animal Nutrition and Management, SLU) conduct studies at the Swedish Livestock Research Centre Lövsta with different proportion of grazing in the diet of cows being milked in a so called voluntary milking system.

A group of cows that go on complete indoor feeding and only outside in exercise lots should be compared with a group that goes on production pasture and are getting about half of their forage from the pasture. The groups will be compared in terms of yield, milking frequency, milk composition, somatic cell counts in milk, feed consumption, “cow traffic” and grazing behaviour.

The study also included to see if the two breeds available on Lövsta (Swedish Holstein and Swedish Red cattle) differ in any respect with regard to the treatments.

An additional study followed cows being milked in an automatic milking carousel (AMR) during the grazing season. The purpose is to provide advice for how to combine milking in AMR with grazing. In the first year cows with complete indoor feeding will be compared with cows only eating silage in limited doses two thirds of the. All of the cows will be able to be on pasture most of the day.

The animal husbandry organisation “Växa Sverige” (Susanna Berg) will do financial calculations of different alternatives during the grazing season and also collect data and experience from farms with grazing and automatic milking.