Breeding the right cows for robotic milking

Fast moving technology in milk production has led to some AI companies selecting bulls with traits desirable for automatic milking, according to DeLaval’s website.

“Semex Geneticists have developed our Robot Ready brand specifically for robotic dairy managers for use in their own genetic strategies,” Brad Sayles of Semex Alliance told

“These bulls sire the kind of cows that have correctly-placed teats so the robot can quickly find them, are very productive and have the functional feet and legs that will last for many lactations, easily moving them through the barns and to the robot.

“Another important element of the Robot Ready selection criteria is that we include workability traits that select for average to fast milking speeds and avoids nervous cows or poor temperament cows.” An automatic milking system requires cows that walk to the robot, get the liners attached, let down the milk, get milked and get out by themselves, without anyone having to be present beside the robot.

Traits which are probably not that important for cows that are tied up during winter and out on pasture in the summer may have to bred into the millions of cows that are kept all year round in loose housing robotic barns with high cow density.

Cows in automatic milking systems need to have the same functional traits as cows in other milking systems, but in addition they also need an appropriate temperament; calm but driven, says automatic milking dairy management advisor Francisco Rodriguez at DeLaval.

He explains that a lame cow will not go to the robot. She will not get milked nor fed and of course, in the end, she will be culled.

There has been a selection for bulls and cows that transmit close rear teats, which works well in a parlour, but can be difficult to find for the robot. If the robot can’t attach optimally, milking speed goes down, stall time increases and if the cows are not milked properly, they might develop mastitis.

Teat size is also important, and good consistency from cow to cow is preferable; if teat sizes vary a lot, it can be difficult to choose the right liner. Even a good healthy, high-yielding cow will be a problem if she doesn’t behave in the robot.

A nervous animal will have an increased level of adrenalin, which can block the oxytocin reflex and interrupt the milk let-down.

“The milking behaviour is really important, and hopefully the AI companies will start focusing on the evaluation of this. Some companies select on milking speed and dairy character, but not directly on cow temperament,” says Francisco Rodriguez.

The cow needs not only be calm while in the milking box, she also needs to be driven — hard-working and willing to move and walk.

The cow has to act on her own; nobody will fetch her to the robot.

With lazy cows the cow flow and performance in the barn will be much lower than with driven cows.

“We want animals that can work almost by themselves, since the farmer is not there all the time anymore. I believe people are underestimating the importance of this.”


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