Work package 2

Work package 2. Optimise the integration of AM systems with cow grazing using new technologies


  • Implement precision grazing management for integration with AM
  • Evaluate technologies to support decision making in integrated grazing and AM
  • Evaluate the potential use of carousel (rotary) and mobile AM robots

WP Leader: WLR, Dr. Agnes van den Pol-van Dasselaar

Description of work

The number of milkings is an important determinant of the use efficiency of an AM system. A low rate of voluntary milking will result in longer milking intervals, which may impair milk production and udder health. An optimum grazing management will ensure a sufficient number of milkings. Furthermore, technologies will be introduced to secure animal health and welfare. This WP will also investigate new AM technologies- carousel and mobile robots.


Task 2.1 Precision grazing management for integration with AM systems (M1-M24)

Leader: TEAGASC, Bernadette O’Brien

Involved partners: TEAGASC, WLR, ULg, IDELE, LTO, SME FARM IE

Precision grazing management is critical for the successful integration of AM and grazing. Integrated AM and grazing requires an even distribution of milking over a 24 hours period to achieve a high level of machine utilization, minimal length of cow queues at the dairy and a high ratio of cows to milking unit. Feed is the main motivator for cows to move voluntarily into the AM instillation. In an integrated grazing and AM system this motivator will be a new allocation of grass. The system will include a selection unit located near the housing for the AM system and linked by raceways to grazing. The selection unit comprises of a small collection area entered through one way gates and exited through a 3-way automatic drafting system. The selection unit will direct the cow to the AM for milking or one of two grazing destinations; the same area that she had just come from or a new grazing area. Each selection unit comprises of a set of pneumatically powered drafting gates operated by an embedded controller with an associated RFID tag reader. Each embedded controller communicates with a central PC based software programme located in the dairy. This system requires precise grazing management, as too high a grass allocation will result in a reduced number of milkings while a low grass allocation will result in increased cow queues at the dairy. TEAGASC will develop a precision grazing ‘Decision Support Tool’ (DST) for systems with AM. It will allow grassland management decisions to be made in an accurate and objective manner. Different tools for measuring grass yield will be tested e.g. a rapid pasture meter. A GPS farm mapping will be applied and demonstrated on research farms in different countries. This will allow precise allocation of grass (accounting for paddock size and shape). The DST will be tested on research farms at TEAGASC, IDELE, WLR and ULg and on ‘Monitor Farms’ in Ireland, Netherlands and France with necessary adjustments made. Finally, the DST will be applied on the SME end user farm in Ireland (SME FARM IE).


Task 2.2: Evaluate technologies to support the integration of grazing and AM systems

Leader: WLR, Agnes van den Pol-van Dasselaar

Involved partners: WLR, ULg, IDELE, AU

AM systems should not lead to less attention for health and welfare of individual dairy cows. Localization and tracking of individual cows can provide information for practical management decisions of cows in AM systems. Examples are data about social interaction (ranking, grouping and seclusion behavior) and frequency and duration of visits to the AM system. The aim of this task is to generate detailed information which will be used to optimize the system and to motivate the cows to go to the AM system. Cow location and activity patterns are important in terms of dairy production (milk yield, fertility), system efficiency (grass utilization), health (e.g. lameness), and welfare (e.g. time for social behaviors). Animalborne localization devices, e.g. GPS, provide continuous and accurate records of animal location over time. Additional sensors can measure activity type, e.g. resting, walking, grazing and rumination. WLR, IDELE and ULg will record individual cow activity over 2-years on research farms, with both large (>100 cows) and small (50-60 cows) herds. Additionally, AU will record individual cow grazing and heat activity on ‘Monitor Farms’ in Denmark. WLR will use the data to develop a practical tool for farmers that can be used (i) to improve grassland management, (ii) to detect problems, e.g. cow health, and (iii) as an aid in heat detection and ultimately herd fertility.


Task 2.3: Evaluate the potential use of robotic AM-carousel (rotary) (M1-M36)

Leader: SLU, Eva Spörndly

Involved partners: SLU, AU

The traditional AM robot is a fixed single box developed to milk herds of 50 to 80 cows. This task will focus on the use of an AM-carousel for large herds using a DeLaval Automatic Milking Rotary System (AMR). This milking system has recently been introduced on the market and offers an option for large herds. No research has been performed with AMR combined with grazing and is therefore an important task in this WP. An automated milking carousel will be available at SLU. Key questions will be to evaluate production response in relation to supplementary feeding and cow traffic in large herds with different proportions of grass in the diet (with or without supplementary silage). These two treatments will be studied during different parts of the grazing season to evaluate the effect of supplementary forage on cow traffic and milk production under different pasture conditions. Individual cow measurement criteria will include milk production, feed intake and movements between barn and pasture. Studies will be performed in cooperation with partner AU where these systems are expected to be introduced. Results will be summarized in guidelines (in close cooperation with WP 5).


Task 2.4: Evaluate the potential use of mobile AM for fragmented farms (M1-M36)

Leader: ULg, Isabelle Dufrasne

Involved partners: ULg, IDELE, AU, CDL

When distance to the AMS is greater than 700 meters there is a reluctance of cows to come voluntary. This task will focus on the use of mobile AM to use grazing in remote areas and/or on fragmented farms where there are many areas which are not easy accessible for grazing. Mobile AM are available on experimental farms at ULg and IDELE for developing grazing management systems to optimize its use in pasture. Issues investigated will include fields, paddock and cow traffic layout. The objective will be to modify grazing systems where the behavior of dairy cows can be manipulated so as to obtain the desired milking frequency, in combination with good herbage intake, high grazing efficiency and low labour input. Mobile automatic milking on ‘Monitor Farms’ in Belgium and Denmark will also be recorded to optimize the overall system. Guidelines will be developed in close cooperation with WP 5 for use on dairy farms.