Automatic feeding in Dairy Cows
Excessive weight loss in early lactation leads to stress and the associated problems of low fertility and increased susceptibilty to disease and lameness. Additionally binge feeding on concentrates lowers the pH in the rumen and causes metabolic disease such as acidosis which in turn reduces feed intake, increases weight loss and reduces production. Automatic feeding systems, such as the Mullerup system used at the South West Dairy Development Centre (SWDC), creates consistent fresh rations mixed from three forage sources, and five straight feeds which is fed up to 16 times a day. Different rations can also be specified for each group. Feeding more frequently leads to increased dry matter intake, and increased pH in the rumen. As feeding bouts and amounts can be scheduled to leave no waste, the system increases feed palatibility and reduces waste. A consistent diet optimises the rumen microbes. Apart from the reduction in labour cost and the convenience in automation, automatic feeding increases intakes, improves body condition score, and therefore fertility and associated reduction in stress and disease. Regulating and increasing rumen pH reduces metabolic diseases, improves milk yield and constituents, thereby increasing milk income. Profit and sustainability is increased by the reduction in waste feed and increases in feed efficiency. Reducing stress by reduction of ketosis and acidosis, having a stable rumen environment leads to better animal welfare and reduced antibiotic use. The managers and staff at the SWDC cite automatic feeding as the one technology that they value the most.