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In Animal : an international journal of animal bioscience

The transition between two lactations remains one of the most critical periods during the productive life of dairy cows. In this study, we aimed to develop a model that predicts the milk yield of dairy cows from test day milk yield data collected in the previous lactation. In the past, data routinely collected in the context of herd improvement programmes on dairy farms have been used to provide insights in the health status of animals or for genetic evaluations. Typically, only data from the current lactation is used, comparing expected (i.e., unperturbed) with realised milk yields. This approach cannot be used to monitor the transition period due to the lack of unperturbed milk yields at the start of a lactation. For multiparous cows, an opportunity lies in the use of data from the previous lactation to predict the expected production of the next one. We developed a methodology to predict the first test day milk yield after calving using information from the previous lactation. To this end, three random forest models (nextMILKFULL, nextMILKPH, and nextMILKP) were trained with three different feature sets to forecast the milk yield on the first test day of the next lactation. To evaluate the added value of using a machine-learning approach against simple models based on contemporary animals or production in the previous lactation, we compared the nextMILK models with four benchmark models. The nextMILK models had an RMSE ranging from 6.08 to 6.24 kg of milk. In conclusion, the nextMILK models had a better prediction performance compared to the benchmark models. Application-wise, the proposed methodology could be part of a monitoring tool tailored towards the transition period. Future research should focus on validation of the developed methodology within such tool.

Salamone M, Adriaens I, Vervaet A, Opsomer G, Atashi H, Fievez V, Aernouts B, Hostens M


Dairy cow, Health monitoring, Milk yield prediction, Random forest model, Transition period