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Highlights of Precision Dairy 2013 Conference

Marcia Endres

The University of Minnesota hosted the first-ever U.S. Precision Dairy Conference and Expo this summer. It was an event attended by 535 people from 25 countries, 26 U.S. states and 4 Canadian provinces. About 20% of the attendees were dairy producers, and if spring hadn't been so wet, we would most likely have more producers in attendance. I crossed paths with a producer from Australia, and I asked him if he had come to the U.S. only to attend the event and he said yes. I was impressed! It is a long trip to say the least.

One of keynote speakers, Henk Hogeveen (Netherlands), commented that when a precision dairy conference was held in Ontario, Canada, three years ago, "there wasn't that much good science available yet. This conference showed quite a change; there were plenty of interesting talks. In addition, there were quite a number of farmer panels, explaining what their experience is with certain types of precision dairy farming applications."

Precision dairy management is growing fast, with more and more research being done in the U.S. and around the world. There was a lot to see in the trade show as well, with new technology products and more to come. Stay tuned for another Precision Dairy conference in the next 2 to 3 years. I invite you to send me an email to let me know when would be the best time of year for you to attend this type of event (

Technologies discussed or showcased at the event included robotic milking, cow sensors for heat and disease detection, inline sensors for the parlor, automated calf feeders, precision feeding, TMR tracking, on-farm data management and analysis, barn designs, parlor automation, and more.

The section on robotic milking included a panel of 5 producers (Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and two from Canada) using robotic milking systems, with all 5 companies that now sell robots in the U.S. represented (Lely, DeLaval, AMS-Galaxy, GEA Farm Technologies, and Boumatic Robotics). It was great to learn from the producers what has worked well for them. For example, two of the producers were using guided flow and three using free flow. It appeared that both can work well. Jack Rodenburg (Canada) spoke on the topic and indicated that he prefers free flow for cow comfort. More research is needed on what is best for maximizing milk production per robot or per cow. Number of cows per robot will certainly influence it. Jim Salfer and I are collecting data from 52 robotic milking herds in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and this is one factor we plan to investigate in our study. Some of the economics abstracts indicated that it takes 6 to 7 years to pay for the robots. But many producers mention quality of life as the main reason to use a robotic milking system, and it is hard to put a dollar value on that. One study showed that individual cow milking intervals can be optimized to increase robotic milking performance. Another showed that by using individual pulsation ratios, milk flow increased by 8%. It seems that there is still more to learn and optimize, which is exciting.

There are many cow sensors in the market today and more yet to come. They can monitor cow activity, temperature, rumination and lying time all day long 24-7-365, and help improve reproductive efficiency and transition cow management. There were many abstracts on cow sensors, more than any other topic. Ray Nebel (U.S.) summarized information on sensors for reproduction. He said that activity monitors should be reliable and provide clear actionable alerts in user friendly lists and graphics. An increase in pregnancy rate from 18 to 24% can result in annual value of $100 per cow per year. Rumination monitors can help detect disease in earlier stages, before loss in production. Some of the producers on the sensor panel indicated that this aspect of the sensor, which helps them improve transition cow management, has a lot of value. We are currently studying rumination monitors in two settings, a large freestall facility and our grazing herd in Morris. Ilan Halachmi (Israel) indicated that when developing sensors, "a developer should work simultaneously on both - the sensor and the decision making. Not only on the sensor. The aim is the automated decision making. The aim is not accumulating data."

Hogeveen concluded that "the ultimate goal of precision dairy management should be to explore the full potential of each individual dairy cow, instead of managing cows in groups. In the old days with small herds, that was possible; with the larger herds, that became difficult, but now with assistance of precision dairy technology it is possible again."

There was a lot more discussed at the conference, and I may be writing additional articles to tell you about it. The reality is that precision dairy is here to stay, and many of you are already using and have been for a while, including things like data management software, TMR tracking and daily milk weights.


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