During the last decades, many dairy farmers have actively advanced their farms toward automation. Automatic concentrate dispensers and automatic milking systems have been utilised for years, and several manufacturers have introduced automatic feeding systems (AFS). AFSs allow for the increase in frequency of feed distribution with significant advantages in terms of health and production. Furthermore, they provide a reduction of man labour related to preparation of feed, distribution, and propelling the ration closer to the feeding rack. The present research was focused on the monitoring of a dairy farm, located in the Veneto region of Italy, during the transition from a conventional feeding system (CFS), based on a tractor operated mixing wagon, to an automatic system equipped with stationary feeding hoppers, mixing unit, and distribution wagon operating on rail. The article reports a comparative analysis of the structural modifications required for the adoption of AFS, including an analysis of the AFS/CFS systems based on their functionality, energy, and man labour requirements. In the case study, AFS represented an affordable way to reduce covered area of the housings, as a result of the reduction in width of foraging lane and the reduction of manger front length. In addition, AFS demonstrated a reduction in labour requirements and improvement of quality and consistency of work when feeding total mixed ration. Finally, the research was addressed to study dairy cow behaviour. A method for monitoring the feeding, resting, and standing indexes was applied to the CFS farm. As a preliminary result of this activity, a positive correlation between cow resting activity and milk production was discovered.
Dairy cow; housing systems; automatic feeding systems; total mixed ration; behaviour.