High tech solutions for dairy nutrition

Exactly how many bites does a dairy cow take per minute, and how much pasture does a cow consume with each bite?

Researchers at the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture (TIA) are preparing for a new experiment involving on-animal sensors that aims to answer these two questions. The research is set to commence in early 2018 and will provide insights that could lead to all-round benefits, helping dairy farmers to maximise their pasture management and enhance the productivity of their herds.

The research, led by TIA Research Fellows Dr James Hills and Pieter Raedts, will focus on gaining a deeper understanding of the grazing behaviours of individual dairy cows and how this relates to feed intake and pasture management.

The research is funded through the Dairy on PAR program which is a collaboration between Dairy Australia and TIA. It will be conducted at TIA’s Dairy Research Facility at Elliott in Tasmania’s North-West.

“The dairy cows participating in this research will be fitted with collars that are equipped with high-tech sensors. Through these sensors, we will be able to collect real-time and highly-detailed data based on the cows’ behaviour throughout the day,” Mr Raedts said.

“The sensors will allow us to determine the number of bites that an individual cow takes while grazing in the paddock. We can already determine the number of minutes that a cow spends grazing during a day, but we don’t have enough detailed information about how many bites a cow takes each minute. This information is vital to understanding an individual cow’s actual feed intake during grazing.

“There may be a difference between the amount of pasture that a dairy cow consumes and how much pasture a farmer thinks they have consumed – and this can have a big impact on profit.”

Mr Raedts said the amount of bites that a cow takes per minute is likely to vary between breeds and would be influenced by factors such as early lactation compared to late lactation.

“We know that some cows take up to 40,000 bites per day but this is likely to vary and we want to understand this better. For example, it is unlikely that a small Jersey cow grazes the same as a large Holstein,” Mr Raedts said.

As well as measuring the amount of bites, the research team will also seek to determine the amount of dry matter that a cow consumes per bite. The type and condition of the pasture that a cow has access to is likely to contribute to variances in this amount.

“There is a limited amount of food that a cow can graze from a paddock and the rest of its daily energy intake needs to be supplemented, but how do you accurately know how much extra it requires?” Mr Raedts said.

“If a cow consistently doesn’t have enough access to pasture, its productivity will gradually decline over time. That’s why there are so many benefits of being able to accurately determine how much pasture a cow has consumed during a day, and providing the correct amount of supplements to optimise productivity.

“It all comes down to enabling farmers to run a profitable dairy business using the cheapest feed available, and that is grass in a paddock.”

There is potential for this research to lead-to significant outcomes for effective animal and pasture management and the researchers hope it will enable more profitable dairy businesses.

The research follows-on from a Sense-T project that developed algorithms to monitor grazing and productivity through the use of on-animal sensors.

TIA is a joint venture between the University of Tasmania and the Tasmanian Government.

Published on: 06 Sep 2017 2:19pm