Feeding patterns and performance of cows in controlled cow traffic in automatic milking systems.
ABSTRACT Two groups of dairy cows monitored from 3 to 19 wk postpartum were subjected to 2 different cow traffic routines in an automatic milking system with control gates and an open waiting area. Using different time settings in the control gates, the groups of cows were separated by average milking frequency; cows in the high milking frequency routine had a minimum of 4 h between milkings (MF(4)) and were milked 3.2 +/- 0.1 times daily, whereas cows in the low milking frequency routine had at least 8 h between milkings (MF8) and were milked 2.1 +/- 0.1 times daily. Cows in the 2 groups were switched to the opposite milking frequency control for wk 18 and 19. The increased milking frequency resulted in a higher milk yield of about 9% through 16 wk of early lactation Although the higher milk yield was not significant when measured as energy-corrected milk, significant interactions of milking frequency and study period for milk yield and energy-corrected milk yield were consistent with a yield response when cows were milked more frequently. Meal criteria estimated for each individual cow were used to group feeding visits into meals. During MF4, cows fed in fewer meals per day and had longer meals than during MF8. The control gates were used efficiently, with only a few passages not resulting in actual meals. Although the voluntary meal intervals seemed to be short, the average milking frequency was far below that theoretically possible. This was explained by individual differences in milking frequency and long intervals from when a cow was redirected in a control gate until it arrived in the milking unit. A wide individual range in the voluntary interval between the first and the second meal in the milking cycle suggests that fixed time limits for control gates set on group level have no justifiable biological basis. It was also concluded that primiparous cows were well adapted to the automatic milking system after 2 wk in the barn.