A phantom training program may help acclimate heifers to an automatic milking system

American Dairy Science Association®

Research in the Journal of Dairy Science® examines the potential benefits of training with an automated milking system phantom to reduce stress for animals and farm employees

The phantom of a milking robot is built similarly to the Lely Astronaut A4 (Credit: Lely Industries NV, Maassluis, the Netherlands).

A new study appearing in the Journal of Dairy Science indicates that heifers that participated in a training program using a phantom before introduction to an automated milking system (AMS) visited the actual AMS more frequently, thereby potentially increasing milk yield. Acclimating the herd to an unfamiliar milking robot in advance is a potential solution to decrease stress for animals and farm employees.

“Overall, training on the phantom provided the animals with the necessary amount of experience to perform well with the actual milking robot and to achieve a higher number of voluntary milking visits,” said Almuth Einspanier, PhD, Institute of Physiological Chemistry, Leipzig University, Leipzig, Germany. “Therefore, training on an AMS phantom is a good alternative to a training program directly at the AMS, with some important advantages, and can be an important contribution to improving animal welfare in dairy farming.”

Since their market launch 28 years ago, AMS have been gaining popularity as a way to increase daily milk yield through increased milking frequency and allow cows to decide individually when to be milked. These benefits, however, depend in large part on the animals’ acceptance of the AMS and on them visiting it voluntarily and without human assistance for milking.

The authors of this study, from Leipzig University, Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, Agricultural Society Ruppendorf AG, and MAP Meißener Agrarprodukte AG, randomly assigned 77 Holstein-Friesian heifers to either a control group or phantom group. The phantom group was given free access to the phantom for four weeks before calving so that they could explore it and be positively conditioned by feeding concentrate; the control group had no contact with the phantom or the AMS before the first milking at the AMS. Fecal cortisol concentrations and rumination times of the animals were measured to assess their stress level.





The heifers trained on the phantom showed a significantly higher number of milking visits, leading to the conclusion that they were familiar with the AMS and therefore entered the milking robot more often. In addition, the proportion of trained heifers that had to be driven into the AMS was significantly lower than in the control group, indicating that they accepted the AMS readily and were in a better position to implement regular and voluntary milking visits.

Although the study had hypothesized that animals that had previously been trained on a phantom would undergo less stress on an actual milking robot, the fecal cortisol concentrations did not significantly increase when they were introduced into the AMS, and there was no significant difference between the two experimental groups. In addition, the results of the study suggest that training on a phantom had no significant effect on rumination time or lactation performance.





This study further illustrated training on a phantom offers the possibility of facilitating the start into early lactation for the heifers.

Professor Einspanier added, “The increased number of milking visits and the reduced proportion of animals that had to be fetched into the AMS for milking indicate that training on the phantom prepares the animals well for being milked in the AMS.”

About the Journal of Dairy Science

The Journal of Dairy Science® (JDS), an official journal of the American Dairy Science Association®, is co-published by Elsevier and FASS Inc. for the American Dairy Science Association. It is the leading general dairy research journal in the world. JDS readers represent education, industry, and government agencies in more than 70 countries, with interests in biochemistry, breeding, economics, engineering, environment, food science, genetics, microbiology, nutrition, pathology, physiology, processing, public health, quality assurance, and sanitation. JDS has a 2019 Journal Impact Factor of 3.333 and 5-year Journal Impact Factor of 3.432 according to Journal Citation Reports (Source: Clarivate 2020). www.journalofdairyscience.org





About the American Dairy Science Association (ADSA)

The American Dairy Science Association (ADSA) is an international organization of educators, scientists, and industry representatives who are committed to advancing the dairy industry and keenly aware of the vital role the dairy sciences play in fulfilling the economic, nutritive, and health requirements of the world’s population. It provides leadership in scientific and technical support to sustain and grow the global dairy industry through generation, dissemination, and exchange of information and services. Together, ADSA members have discovered new methods and technologies that have revolutionized the dairy industry. www.adsa.org

About Elsevier

 Elsevier is a global information analytics business that helps scientists and clinicians to find new answers, reshape human knowledge, and tackle the most urgent human crises. For 140 years, we have partnered with the research world to curate and verify scientific knowledge. Today, we’re committed to bringing that rigor to a new generation of platforms. Elsevier provides digital solutions and tools in the areas of strategic research management, R&D performance, clinical decision support, and professional education; including ScienceDirect, Scopus, SciVal, ClinicalKey, and Sherpath. Elsevier publishes over 2,500 digitized journals, including The Lancet and Cell, 39,000 e-book titles and many iconic reference works, including Gray’s Anatomy. Elsevier is part of RELX, a global provider of information-based analytics and decision tools for professional and business customers. www.elsevier.com

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