A new PhD research project co-funded AgriSearch will aim to understand dairy cow behaviour to improve production and welfare in robotic milking systems.

The project is a collaboration between AFBI, Queen’s University Belfast and AgriSearch.

PhD student Francesca Johansen, who will carry out the project, has previously completed a Masters of Research at Bristol University studying social behaviour in cattle and so brings relevant experience to her new role.

The overall project aim of the project is to improve cow welfare and productivity in robotic milking systems by optimising the visit frequency to the robot.

Latest estimates that as much as 10% of Northern Ireland’s national herd is milked by robots. However, despite the recent uptake of robotic milking, there is little independent information regarding the management of such systems.

In particular, there is a lack of knowledge regarding cow behaviour and milking frequency with robotic milking, with some cows not transitioning well to these systems and requiring prolonged training.

The success of robotic milking depends on the cows’ voluntary behaviour – yet this remains to be fully understood. Through conducting a number of experiments over the course of her PhD Francesca will hope to address these knowledge gaps.

Francesca will be supervised by Dr. Gareth Arnott of Queen’s University School of Biological Sciences, Dr. Stephanie Buijs of the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute, Jason Rankin of AgriSearch, and Dr. Deborah McConnell of the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute.

The Department for the Economy is the main funder of the project, through a CAST scholarship.