Farmers use light to boost milk production

JAMES BRUNA of South Alston Farm in Callington, Cornwall, is one of hundreds of UK diary farmers who has seen milk production boosted…by lighting.

Cows use the daily pattern of melatonin to set their internal clock, influencing the secretion of a number of other hormones, including insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1). Pic ture: Niklas Gustavsson via WikiMedia Commons 2018

Bruna estimates that his investment in new lights has increased yield by 2,000 litres per cow lactation period, an increase of a fifth over average.

He’s one of a wave of farmers who are turning to research and high technology, including robots, to improve margins as Brexit approaches and pressure on milk prices continues.

Although the research into what’s termed the long-day photoperiod (LDPP) has shown that the right lighting can increase yield by 10 per cent, it’s only in recent years that LED lighting has started to be adopted.

Milking cows exposed to 16 to 18 hours of light with a brightness of at least 160-200 lux followed by six to eight hours of darkness have consistently increased their milk yield.

As in humans, light hitting the eye of the cow sends a signal to suppress the release of the hormone melatonin.

Cows use the daily pattern of melatonin to set their internal clock, influencing the secretion of a number of other hormones, including insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1).

In turn, increases in IGF-1 influence the mammary gland to increase milk production.

So increasing the hours of daylight decreases the amount of melatonin in the cow, which in turn increases the production of IGF-1, which increases milk production.

Bruna has 220 Holstein cows who are milked three times a day through four robots.  The milk is sold to his local dairy in Trewithen.

‘Four years ago, we put up a brand-new shed to accommodate the installation of four robots,’ he told Farmers Weekly. ‘Before, we had a very old steel frame shed and the lighting was extremely poor, so we knew we had to consider this in the new design’.

Eight low-level lights were installed down the middle of the shed, above the six rows of cubicles. A single feed passage which is lit by fifteen 10Wt LED lights mounted on steelwork above the passage. A photo sensor which means the lights come on automatically as it gets dark. In addition, the design incorporates 30 per cent Perspex roof panels to bring in natural light.

Phil Elkins, director at Westpoint Veterinary Group, says prolonged light periods are thought to increase the release of prolactin – the hormone responsible for milk production.

‘Studies have shown that during lactation – particularly the early stage – a photo period of 16 hours and eight hours of dimmer lighting will lift milk production by two litres a day compared with herds that are exposed to only 13 hours of light a day.’

 

  • Learn more about agricultural lighting at the LuxLive 2019 exhibition, taking place on Wednesday 13 November and Thursday 14 November 2019 at London ExCeL. Entry is free. See the full programme and register for a place HERE.