How to identify cow health and herd performance issues before they become problems
With farm scale increases on the rise, being able to monitor each animal is becoming increasingly difficult. When herd managers and farm employees are stretched too thin, individual cow attention becomes more challenging. If you are not able to monitor your cows 24/7, you may be missing key critical cow health problems on your farm. Help is on the way: activity monitors.
The unknown but undisputed ROI of activity monitors
Activity monitors are well known to detect heats 24 hours a day and pinpoint the optimal insemination moment of cows to be bred. The result is more comprehensive heat detection and the ability to use labor elsewhere. Its return on investment is evident because of improved conception rates, reduced breeding costs and shorter open periods. However, the most advanced systems nowadays have much more to offer than just that.
Nedap CowControl continuously monitors eating activity, rumination patterns and inactive behavior of individual cows and groups. Based on these data, the system brings actionable insights to your fingertips to accurately determine health, well-being and nutritional status and identify bottlenecks. This gives you options to improve cow health and longevity, save on recourses and increase the herd’s productivity. Learn how automated cow health and herd performance monitoring can quickly pay for itself on your dairy operation.
1. Stay ahead of disease. Keep cows healthy and productive.
Could you be missing cases of ketosis, subclinical mastitis, displaced abomasums, lameness or other cow diseases? Diseases don’t wait. Neither should you. State-of-the-art systems like Nedap CowControl can help you quickly detect health issues days before their symptoms are visible to the human eye. Finding and treating potentially sick cows early saves time, medical costs, death loss and milk production because the cows recover faster and return to peak milk sooner.
What about the economics? Mastitis is among the most contagious and costly diseases affecting dairy farms. In fresh cows, a case results in an average loss of $444 (408 euros) . Displaced abomasums can cost at least $600 (551 euros) . A case of ketosis costs on average $289 (266 euros) .
Total chewing time counts
Activity monitors don’t pinpoint specific diseases. But they do let you know which cows need attention and they give you the extra information to diagnose their situation. To be able to provide the most accurate and complete information, Nedap CowControl monitors eating activity, rumination patterns and inactive behavior during which the cow is neither eating nor ruminating.
Cows need to spend sufficient time eating and ruminating. It’s the total chewing time (eating and ruminating) that counts. A reduced rumination time in itself doesn’t necessarily indicate a problem. It might simply be the result of a change in diet. Pasture access for example results in a dramatic change in eating and rumination time compared to silage. But the total chewing time remains constant. When the total chewing time drops, that’s when your cows run into trouble.
And that’s why alerts within Nedap CowControl are based on the cow’s inactive behavior. Easy-to-understand reports provide deeper insight into her current and historic behavior to help farm staff decide which action to take.
Even after action is taken, these reports can contribute to measure post-treatment recovery. Cows that don’t bounce back to their normal levels during recovery might need additional clinical examination to be a step ahead of more serious problems.
2. Get the most out of your dry and fresh cows.
Individual attention to dry and fresh cows is often limited. These groups don’t get regular checks in the milking parlor and there are hardly any tools to consistently monitor them without the need for extra labor.
Closely monitoring the behavior of cows around calving enables you to identify which cows need extra attention during this risky transition period. The period they are more susceptible to disease because of changes in the environment, feed and their energy and stress levels. Also, proper dry and fresh cow management determines the success of a good startup after calving and drives high production and fertility results later on in their lactation.
Sufficient and stable feed intake before and straight after calving are essential. They ensure the healthy energy balance and condition needed to quickly start off and maintain milk production at a high level. Closely monitoring eating activity in this period enables you to know if the feed intake of specific cows is on track or off the record. Drops in rumination patterns and inactive behavior peaks might indicate rumen health issues occur that can lead to illnesses like ketosis, acidosis, displaced abomasum and milk fever.
It’s therefore not surprising that many farmers successfully apply this sensor information in their dry and fresh cow protocols. It allows them to get the most out of their activity monitoring system and, more importantly, their cows.
Alex Borst, Herd Manager at Koepon Dairy Farm in The Netherlands:
“We closely monitor the transition list and set goals for the cows that have calved during the past week. A cow is only allowed to return from the straw box to the herd when she eats and ruminates sufficiently.”Read Alex's success story ›
3. Knowing your herd’s performance trends to make the right decisions.
Nedap CowControl monitors behavior on pen and herd level as well. Alerts are generated if a pen is showing abnormal behavior, which indicates something might affect their performance. Pen and herd insights also help you identify management areas that need improvement and give feedback on the impact of management changes. Think of areas or changes in the field of nutrition, housing, handling and employee performance.
A few examples that may apply to your dairy: if you see chewing time drop in a whole group of cows, it could indicate their ration is imbalanced. If you change your feed pushing strategy, the ‘group eating pattern’ report directly shows its impact. If the herd structurally shows long periods of inactive behavior, lockup times may be too long. Management improvements based on these insights pay off in terms of cow comfort, production, health and longevity.Learn more
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 The cost of clinical mastitis in the first 30 days of lactation: An economic modeling tool
 Wilson, D. J., González, R. N., Hertl, J., Schulte, H. F., Bennett, G. J., Schukken, Y. H., & Gröhn, Y. T. (2004). Effect of clinical mastitis on the lactation curve: A mixed model estimation using daily milk weights. Journal of Dairy Science, 87(7), 2073–2084.
 McArt, J. A. A., Nydam, D. V, & Overton, M. W. (2015 Hyperketonemia in early lactation dairy cattle: a deterministic estimate of component and total cost per case. Journal of Dairy Science, 98(3), 2043–54).
 Liang, D., Arnold, L. M., Stowe, C. J., Harmon, R. J., & Bewley, J. M. (2016). Estimating US dairy clinical disease costs with a stochastic simulation model. Journal of Dairy Science, 100(2), 1472–1486.