Breeding based on robot breeding values

category Breeding, Genetics, Robot

Using robot breeding values will help you breed a herd with a focus on suitability for automatic milking systems.

Do you decide to build another parlor or decide to milk using an automatic milking system (AMS or robot)? Increasing numbers of dairy farmers are optin for the latter. Efficiency is the key here: cows must visit the AMS of their own accord and heifers must quickly adapt to the robot. AMS efficiency breeding values are an effective tool in achieving your breeding goals.

Robot breeding values have been available since April 2015. They utilize ‘data’ made available via milking robots. There are three breeding values:

  • robot efficiency: how efficient is a cow for robotic milking?
  • milking interval: what is the interval between two visits to the AMS?
  • heifer habituation: how quickly does the heifer adapt to the AMS?


What are the benefits of robot traits? 
Let us zoom into the three breeding values and see the benefits they offer dairy farmers.

Robot efficiency
If I use an AMS, I want to know how efficiently my cows use it.
Breeding based on robot efficiency makes a difference. The table shows just how significant this difference can be. In the example, we have assumed a farm with an average robot efficiency. The total available robot time is 20 hours a day. All the other factors in this example are the same. If ou use bulls that rank 108 for robot efficiency, their daughters will produce 0.18kg of extra milk per minute. That is 216 kg of additional milk per day, ald almost 79,000 kg of additional milk per robot per year. With an average production of 30 kg of milk per cow per day, you can even milk seven extra cows with your current AMS.

Breeding value 92 96 100 104 108
Average daughter performance
(kg milk/min)
1.44 1.53 1.62 1.71 1.80
Extra kg milk/minute -0.18 -0.09 0 0.09 0.18
Extra kg milk per robot/day -216 -108 0 108 216
Extra kg milk per robot/year -78,889 -39,445 0 39,445 78,889
Extra cows per robot
(at 30 kg milk/day)
-7.2 -3.6 0 3.6 7.2

Milking interval
If I use an AMS, I want my cows to visit the robot of their own accord.
The milking interval trait can help you to breed cows that have a higher robot visiting frequency. Bulls with a high breeding value for milking interval produce daughters with on average a shorter time between two successive visits to the AMS. These cows have a higher visiting frequency to the robot. This greatly reduces your labor input, as you do not have to fetch the cows for milking.

Heifer habituation
Will my heifers quickly adapt to using the robot? It’s important to know, as it can save me a lot of time.
Utilizing bulls with a high breeding value for heifer habituation can help. This produces heifers that visit the AMS to be milked of their own accord shortly after calving. These daughters reach the final milking interval much sooner. The graph shows the differences per breeding value and the percentage of cows that ultimately reach the final milking interval. With a breeding value of above 100, more than 50% of the descendants have reached the final milking interval in week 3 after calving. For bulls with a breeding value of 92 that figure is just 30%, while bulls with a breeding value of 108 show more than 60%.


These differences are considerable and show that using the AMS efficiency breeding values allow you to breed a herd that is well-suited to automatic milking systems.

There are three robot breeding values

1. Robot efficiency
How efficient is my cow for a milking robot? This is all about the kilos of milk per total robot time in minutes. This is the time measured between entering and leaving the robot, including pre-treatment, connection time, milking, after treatment, etc. Daughters of bulls with a high AMS efficiency produce more milk per minute of robot occupancy time. The important traits here are aspects such as milk production and speed, but also the time for treatment before and after milking.

2. Milking interval
How much time is there between two successive, successful visits to the AMS? Cows that visit the robot more frequently are preferable. Cows with a longer milking interval (fewer visits to the robot) have to be fetched more often. A breeding value higher than 100 for milking interval results in a shorter milking interval i.e. cows that visit the robot more frequently.

3. Heifer habituation
How quickly will my heifer adapt to the robot? in this case, the average milking interval in the period immediately post-calving (week 1, 2 and 3) is compared with a later period in lactation (week 10, 11 and 12). In the first period, the cows are still unfamiliar with the AMS and the intervals between visits are longer. Later in lactation, they have become used to the robot and visit the system more frequently. The breeding value takes into account the difference in milk production between both periods.
A breeding value higher than 100 indicates that the final milking interval will be reached sooner.