At the 2012 National Mastitis Council conference, Ben Smink, Farm Management Support, Lely USA, spoke on a panel about managing herd health through automatic milking. Smink and dairy producers on the panel identified these factors as most important for maximizing herd health for producers using automatic milking systems:

1. Identifying and understanding what’s important.
Modern automatic milking systems measure over 100 values per cow per day in the robot, including: body weight, rumination, activity and feed intake; and for each milking: milk yield, milk times, milk speed, milk temperature, fat, protein and lactose content. For each quarter, milk time, conductivity and color are measured.

Enhanced software algorithms transform the data into practical, hands-on information. Herd managers get quick overviews of cows requiring attention, including what the potential problem of the cow is and in which part of the body she is developing the problem.

2. Creating proactive herd health management.
Herdsmen using automatic milking systems are able to be proactive about herd health situations, with the advantage of multiple data points working in combination with observation. This allows them to identify health issues early, before an animal gets sick and decreases production, and more importantly, helps prevent culling decisions by identifying issues before they become too severe to manage. All of this improves constant health and therefore constant production, fertility and longevity results of the herd.

3. Making better herd health decisions, from Herdsman to nutritionist.
With automatic milking systems, herd advisors are provided more information, and herdsmen expect to be provided scenarios versus evaluations. Advisory for herdsmen using automatic milking systems must be positioned more like GPS, providing guidelines for the future that allow the farmer to make the right decisions as situations unfold.

Advisors benefit as well, garnering herd health information to help make better decisions, including: feed rations, dry matter intake, effective fiber in the bunk, output feed truck, dry cow treatment, dry cow transition management, preventive mastitis treatment, and more.

Smink says automatic milking system technologies that allow better monitoring aren’t magic and they don’t have the power to turn bad herdsmen good. They do, however, allow a good herdsman the tools and guidance to become even better.

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