Food can be used in an automatic milking system (AMS) to encourage frequent attendance to, and modify behaviour in, an AMS. An AMS was designed such that a cow had to pass from a bedded area through the AMS to enter the feeding area. A visit resulted in milking if the interval since the last milking was greater than 4 h.
Fourteen Holstein-Friesian dairy cows were allowed to attend voluntarily an AMS for 15 h/day for three 8-day periods. In period 1 the cows were given forage in the feeding area and concentrates in the bedded area but in period 2 this was reversed. Period 3 repeated period 1. The cows were also divided into two groups of seven, only one of which was given 1 kg of concentrates when milked in each period in a cross-over design.
Visits per cow per day increased when the cows were given forage in the feeding area (6·0 v. 4·1 (s.e.d. 0·08) P < 0·05) but milkings per cow per day were only slightly different (2·6 v. 2·4 (s.e.d. = 0·02) P = 0·052). Feeding forage in the feeding area modified forage-eating behaviour by reducing the number of bouts (4·9 v. 7·6 bouts per cow per day, P < 0·05) and total forage eating time (209 v. 289 min per cow per day (s.e.d. = 33·6), P < 0·05). The cows also tended to spend less time lying (529 v. 620 min per cow per day (s.e.d. = 43·2) P = 0·051).
There was no effect of feeding/not feeding concentrates in the milking stall on visits per cow per day or milkings per cow per day. However, feeding tended to create more shuffling behaviour during the automatic teat cup attachment process (3·4 v. 6·7 shuffling bouts per milking (s.e.d. 2·07) P = 0·053) but there were no effects on the levels of kicking, successful teat cup attachment rate, vocalization, elimination, hesitations in mounting a step or poor rear leg positions. The cows tended to adjust to a more accessible stance during both the automatic attachment process (from 17% of milkings exhibiting poor leg positions at the start of attachment, to 10% at the end, P < 0·01) and over the course of the experiment (from 26% to 10%, P < 0·02). There was a trend for cows who were not fed to milk out quicker than those who were fed for all milkings per day combined (733 s v. 811 (s.e.d. 43·3) s P = 0·074) but there were no other effects on yield, milk flow rate from the udder or time taken to milk out for all milkings through the day combined or just the first milking of the day.
Feeding concentrates in the feeding area can be used as an alternative to feeding forage in the feeding area, but there is no need to feed concentrates in the milking stall. Feeding cows while they were being milked did not improve their behaviour or milking characteristics.