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Cow diets tailored to individual yield potentials

Scientists are developing strategies for tailoring the allocation of concentrates to the individual cow. Such allocation may increase the cow's milk yield and significantly improve her feed efficiency and result in a better health, welfare, economy and environment.

[Translate to English:] Optimering af koens fodring kan forbedre hendes ydelse og velfærd samt være godt for miljøet. Foto: Jesper Rais

Cows are not identical objects produced on an assembly line. They have different yields, appetites and needs. Therefore they must also be fed individually. By developing and implementing new strategies for optimising the individual allocation of concentrates, scientists expect that milk yield for the individual cow can be increased by up to 300 kg per year and the feed efficiency improved by 75 feed units (FU) per year (1 FU = 1 kg barley with 14% water).


This is something that the farmer will be able to feel on his pocket. The cow will also benefit from it, since the optimised feeding reduces the risk of feed-related diseases, and the environment will benefit, since when milk is produced more efficiently there will be a lower impact on the climate and the environment per kilo milk produced per year.


This all forms part of a four-year research project at Aarhus University supported by 6.3 million Danish kroner from the Milk Levy Foundation.


- The results from this strategy of developing individual feed allocations can be used directly in herds with automatic milking systems (AMS). This corresponds to 25 per cent of Denmark's milk production. The results can also be used in a significant percentage of the remaining herds that use automatic feeders for feed supplements, explains the project leader, senior researcher Martin Weisbjerg from the Department of Animal Science.


Cohesion between basic ration and concentrates

Scientists will examine the effect of individual concentrate allocation on cow production, health and behaviour by feeding concentrates based on the actual feed intake recorded by the Insentec feed system.


- To adjust the allocation of concentrates can be a risky business if it leads to significant changes in the feed intake and thus increases the risk of feeding disorders. This is why a system that works out an estimate of the basic feed intake will ensure robust strategies for individual concentrate allocations in order to optimise milk production without compromising cow health and welfare, says Martin Weisbjerg.


For the high-yielding cow, an individual and dynamic optimisation of the ratio of concentrate to basic ration will help ensure that the cow has enough time to eat and rest and that she has the right energy balance.


The relationship between quantity and quality of concentrates allocated by the robot and the basic ration provided in the central feed alley can affect the frequency of visits to the robot and other behavioural patterns, including how much time she will need to spend on digesting the feed. High-yielding cows may be short of time and it may therefore benefit the busy high-yielding cow to be allocated more concentrate since this typically takes less time to eat than the basic ration.


For further information please contact: Senior researcher Martin Riis Weisbjerg, Department of Animal Science, email: Martin.Weisbjerg@agrsci.dk, telephone: +45 8715 8046


Professor Lene Munksgaard, Department of Animal Science, email: Lene.Munksgaard@agrsci.dk, telephone: +45 8715 7953, Mobile: +45 2476 5079