Sensors can help to understand the effects of a change in feeding management. This way, farmers know if a management change is an improvement.
Dairy farmers always thrive to improve the farm, but how do you know if a management change is an improvement? The Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle is a very common way for continuous improvement used in many industries. The dairy industry is no exception. You identify a problem, test a potential solution, check the outcome of this solution and implement it if the outcome is positive. This sounds simple right? But a thorough check is not always easy, especially if the outcome is not immediately available. For example, if you change something in your dry cow pen to improve production you will have to wait 2 to 3 months before you can check this. Your cows however can tell you earlier if they think the change is an improvement. Sensors can help you with that. Let’s take a closer look at a real-life example of a change in feeding management.
Trying a new mixer wagon
A farmer was not happy with his current feeding management. Cows were heavily sorting, it was very busy at an already overcrowded feed bunk around feeding. On top of that, production of the heifers was lower than expected. He was not mixing his ration and he identified this as the source of his problem. Therefore, the potential solution he tested was to try a new mixer wagon and to start feeding a mixed ration. He got one on trial for 14 days. But then what’s next? How do you check if mixing was an improvement? Of course, milk production is an important parameter but it takes some time before you see this change. And you probably want some details about feeding behavior. You can watch what is happening around feeding, manually check the ration for sorting, etc. All of that is still pretty subjective. It can give you some ideas but real data from your cows can help you make a better-informed decision. In this situation, sensor data was used to check feeding and lying.
Feeding and lying behavior
The effect of mixing the feed was checked based on the average eating, rumination and lying time of the animals. The first week of the trial was considered a learning period, where the animals got used to the new way of delivering the feed. The testing period was the second week of the trial. Data from this week was compared with the week before the start of the trial (see below).