New technology and optimisation improve dairy farms' competitiveness

August 5, 2013

Adopting automated milking systems improves the productivity growth of dairy farms and, thus, their prospects of long-term survival. The treatment of diseased cows, along with production of replacement stock in a planned manner and with new technology, is economically justifiable. In her doctoral thesis, Anna-Maija Heikkilä, Lic.Sc. (Agriculture and Forestry) of MTT Agrifood Research Finland studied tech-nology choices and optimal herd replacement on dairy farms.

Her dissertation shows that an increase in farm size leads to greater productivity growth, irrespective of the milking system. However, the growth was found to be most pronounced on farms that had adopted robotic milking.

"The direct effect was linked to technological change, but automation may also solve problems related to the availability of skilled labour. Thereby, automatic milking opens access to larger herd size, which is a condition for improving productivity growth in the Finnish dairy sector," Heikkilä comments.

Investment subsidies play a significant role in farmers' investment decisions. This was evident both from the modelling of the switch to robotic milking and the changeover to loose-housing technology, a prerequisite for robotic milking.

In her dissertation, Heikkilä examined tactical and strategic choices, made by dairy farmers, as a means of improving the economic performance of Finnish , and, thus, their competitiveness in the market.

Treatment of diseased cows is economically profitable

The optimal rules for disposal of are almost identical for healthy and diseased cows. The results show that, as a general rule, treating a diseased cow is more profitable than replacing the animal with a first-lactation cow. However, a permanently low milk-production capacity makes it economically justifiable to remove the cow from the herd.

"Therefore, farmers' awareness of the real costs of premature culling and the gains that can be achieved by treating a diseased cow must be improved. Optimisation tools, based on farm-specific input data, are needed for determining the best replacement decisions and, hence, optimal reproduction policy," Heikkilä says.

New technology has worthwhile benefits in herd reproduction

Heifer-calf production can be accelerated through the use of sex-sorted sperm in insemination. Sex-sorted sperm should only be used with heifers; for cows, the traditional insemination method is a more profitable choice. Embryo transfer alone produces a favourable economic result, without any need for selection of the calf's sex in advance.

"The optimal combination of the various reproduction methods must be determined herd-specifically, since it is affected by many farm-specific factors, along with current price relationships," Heikkilä reminds us.

Explore further: Study suggests dairy herd water quality linked to milk production

Related Stories

Farming out dairy chores— to robots

September 13, 2012

The boss cow saunters to the head of the line and, with a flick of her hip, cuts off two other ladies. She's itching to get at the tasty brown morsels waiting in the feed trough.

Names give cows a lotta bottle

January 28, 2009

( -- A cow with a name produces more milk than one without, scientists at Newcastle University have found. Drs Catherine Douglas and Peter Rowlinson have shown that by giving a cow a name and treating her as an ...

Dairy study in top agriculture journal

May 30, 2013

Massey University researcher Dr Jean Margerison has had a research article accepted for publication in the prestigious Journal of Dairy Science.

Recommended for you

Mammal long thought extinct in Australia resurfaces

December 15, 2017

A crest-tailed mulgara, a small carnivorous marsupial known only from fossilised bone fragments and presumed extinct in NSW for more than century, has been discovered in Sturt National Park north-west of Tibooburra.

Finding a lethal parasite's vulnerabilities

December 15, 2017

An estimated 100 million people around the world are infected with Strongyloides stercoralis, a parasitic nematode, yet it's likely that many don't know it. The infection can persist for years, usually only causing mild symptoms. ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1 / 5 (6) Aug 05, 2013
This was doctoral thesis subject material back in 2004, if not earlier.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.