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Grazing Management Technology Moves into the Robotic Dairy Barn

CRYSTALYX® supplements are highly palatable which contributes to several benefits related to grazing management.  Cattle like the stuff and will seek it out!   Strategic placement of barrels can modify where beef cattle graze and impact resting behavior in pasture and open range settings.  A dairy free stall barn is a much smaller and confined setting but recent finds show that where barrels are placed does impact cow movement and behavior, even when abundant quantities of a TMR diet is offered in a restricted housing environment.

CRYSTALYX® has done research using GPS tracking of cattle to document modification of cow movement and behavior using specific placement of CRYSTALYX® protein supplements.  This patented technology has shown to move cows away from water and hold cattle in targeted areas to be grazed.  The area where a group of cattle rested and spent the night was shown to be impacted by the location of the CRYSTALYX® supplement.   The combination of targeted grazing and the improved digestibility of low quality forages with protein supplementation results is a Win Win Win situation; good for the environment, improved pasture utilization and improved forage digestibility.  The pictures below show how CRYSTALYX® could attract a cow to an underutilized part of the pasture better than salt.

The attractiveness of CRYSTALYX® can benefit dairy producers with modifying animal behavior and movement. With labor challenges in rural areas, robotic milking is becoming more common on many farms but now the cow has free choice of when and how often she gets milked.  Dairy producers choose robotic milking for many reasons, but the main one is labor savings.  Cows that do not go the robot as desired are called fetch cows.  The dairy producer must go find them and bring them to the robot for milking.  This activity defeats the labor saving concept of robotic milking.   Late lactation cows, recently calved cows and first calf heifers can be common offenders and fall in the fetch cow group.  Robotic milking systems rely on feeding a pelleted grain in the robot to entice cows to visit the robot.  Late lactation cows are fed minimal amount of the pellet due to their lower milk production.  Fresh cows and heifers are often more timid and decide to not “fight” more dominate cows to get to the robot for milking, thus negatively impacting their daily milk production.

Field trials and university trials have shown that strategic placement of CRYSTALYX® does modify cow movement and behavior in free stall and robotic milking systems.  Most robotic barns will have a loafing area in front of the milking station or the robot is place at a cross over lane in the free stall barn which are perfect places to position the CRYSTALYX® barrels to draw animals near the robot.  Once the timid or slow cow is near the robot, she is more likely to be milked. 

Animal tracking technology has improved significantly.  We can track cattle in a dairy barn to her exact location to within 1 foot accuracy.  The University of Kentucky conducted a trial where they could document that cows spent more time in a specific area if the CRYSTALYX® supplement was present.  CRYSTALYX® Buffer-Lyx® was located at the end of the loafing area where cow traffic was normally very low and CRYSTALYX® Buffer-Lyx® could increase the cow visits that resulted in time spent near the supplement being 4 to 5 times longer than when an empty container was in the area.   In the picture below, the white dot is the CRYSTALYX® feeding area and the green icons are individual cows.

On farm experience and farm trials have shown increased robot visits per day resulting in more milk production with strategically placed CRYSTALYX® barrels.  The most interesting observation is how the cows are calmer and milking speed is increased.  Milking speed and milk let down is related to oxytocin release and how relaxed the cows are in the robot.   As cows get exited or stressed the cortisol levels increase and this will block the oxytocin response and cows will milk out more slowly.  It has been observed on several farms that the boss or dominate cow would spend more time at CRYSTALYX® barrels and less time guarding the entry gate into the robot.  More timid cows such as fresh cows and heifers could enter the robot without interacting with the more dominate cows.  This kept stress levels low and improved speed at which cows milked.

Technology is allowing us to gather more animal data from not just production but activity as well.  We have been able to document modification of grazing systems using GPS tracking data in large pasture settings and in addition, changes in animal movement with robotic milking and free stall housing systems by strategic placement of CRYSTALYX® supplements.  CRYSTALYX® has a wide range of supplements to deliver mineral, protein, additives such as fly control and buffers as in the case of Buffer-Lyx®.  The fact the product is very attractive to cattle brings the added benefit of being able to modify cow movement and behavior with strategic placement of the Barrels.