Three time-consuming tasks you can automate on your dairy
By replacing labour and time-consuming tasks with technology, your herd is closely monitored at all times and you get the most accurate cow data for informed and data-driven decisions. Here are 3 important tasks, ready to be automated.
When pastures are well-managed and your cows are healthy and in-calf on time, you have covered the most important ingredients to reach a 300-day lactation and remain at a calving interval of 365 days. Being a good grass manager is a trade of its own and it’s no less true for being a great dairy herdsman. While you can’t control the weather to make your pastures more luscious, you can have full control over breeding and animal health. Control over the key performance indicators of your farm always starts with the cow and how she behaves. And you might need an extra pair of eyes to help with that.
When cows talk to us
Cows talk to us via different ways. It can be subtle or more profound. But you have to be a trained cow whisperer to be able to see it all and hence understand what it means and what the cow tries to tell us. And what are the cows doing at night and when you are not around them and do they act differently when you are entering the barn or milk them? Watching each individual cow at all times in an unbiased way is simply not possible. “With cow monitoring technology we are collecting cow behavioural patterns during day and night and translate these into relevant insights related to heat activity, eating, rumination and cow health”, explains Sören Bunte, international account manager at Nedap Livestock Management. Watching cows with the use of technology is not only more accurate, it’s also more time and labour efficient. According to Bunte, there are three important farm tasks in pasture-based systems that are ready for automation: heat detection, health monitoring and drafting.
1. Automated heat detection
Accurate heat detection is extremely important and your aim is to achieve the highest pregnancy rate in the shortest period of time. A missed heat directly impacts the calving interval and milk production in the following season and can even have long lasting effects. Using the human eye (visual observation) to detect heat related cow behavior is still common practice in most European free-stall systems, while tail painting remains the most widely used form of heat detection in larger dairies in the US and pasture-based systems. The latter is often considered easy and cheap and something “we have always done on the farm”. But tail painting requires skills and experience to apply, read and interpret. And do you leave this job up to multiple people, risking a biased interpretation of the results. When not done properly, heat signs are missed, and tail painting becomes an expensive tool instead, rather than a cheap option. Automated heat detection takes the guesswork and errors out and directly improves heat detection rates. Bunte: “Our sensor technology (Nedap CowControl) shows a proven >90% accuracy in heat detection and could improve the 6-week-in-calf-rate significantly as one of few tools you have with the highest significance. The more cows in-calf early, the fewer cows will be empty at the end of mating. Nedap CowControl also detects non-cycling and irregular cyclers for you, allowing for quick intervention and tens of dollars per cow saved.
2. Accurate and constant health monitoring
While accurate heat detection is the key to milk production, high milk yield can only be achieved with healthy cows. To prevent a high veterinary bill or a lost cow, you need to be able to quickly intervene when there is a potential health issue. Behavioural observations of the cows are important in detecting illness or injury. But it is difficult to actually see a sudden drop in feeding and rumination time with the human eye that could be linked to a potential health issue. At the same time, a cow is trained to act as a tough cookie and hide when they are not feeling well. Nedap CowControl turns behavioural information into relevant health alerts, to-do lists and reports so the farmer and his team can proactively manage the health of each cow and the entire herd. Bunte: “Our sensors collect cow data 24/7 and 365 days per year and notify on possible health issues. This results in the early detection of mastitis (up to 2 days before clinical signs are shown), digestive disorders and other important health issues. These insights can also help veterinarians to make decisions based on the cow’s behaviour of the last 24 hours”. A healthy cow is not only free from disease but is also fit and robust, reflected in the body condition score (BCS). “It is important to prevent the BCS from becoming too low, especially during autumn and winter to prevent calving problems and to attain high milk yield. A robust cow with a good BCS can also withstand challenging weather patterns while grazing year-round and causes less trouble during the transition period. For a good BCS, feeding and rumination times must be high at all times. A drop in milk production can be hard to regain. A cow has to work hard to eat as much as possible in a day. Our health monitoring tool calculates the feeding and rumination times for you to ensure you the cows have enough to eat year-round”, Bunte explains.
3. Automatic drafting of cows that need attention
In addition, the possibility to seamlessly integrate Nedap CowControl with drafting gates makes it possible to automatically separate cows needing to be inseminated or treated according to heat and health alerts, without having to touch them a single time. With increasing herd sizes and reduced labour force, replacing visual heat detection and tail painting is often the first reason for farmers to invest in cow monitoring technology and the numbers tell the tale.
Added bonus: all-in-one system for overall herd management and planning
The first step in automating labour intensive tasks often lies in starting with a solid and accurate heat detection system. But the demands of today require that technology is not a stand alone heat detection system, but also picks out the sick cows at an early stage. Pasture-based dairies therefore profit from an all-in-one dairy herd monitoring and management system. Bunte addresses: “Complete cow monitoring adds value to every stage of the production cycle and gives you an extra pair of eyes during the fresh cow period, the breeding period, the pregnant (mid- to late lactation) and close up period. When there are less health issues and you can successfully inseminate all cows in your preferred time window, you have more time for other management tasks and proper planning for calving, mating, cow replacement or negotiating ever important contracts. It also creates more peace of mind year-round and time for a well-deserved break after the peak season”.
When cows talk, technology listens
For dairy farmers it’s an everyday occurance to juggle all dairy farm activities at once and there aren’t simply enough hours in a day to watch each cow manually. But they can’t afford to miss a heat or important health issue. This challenge is only getting bigger when dairies increase in size and external labour is hard to find or halted due to the Covid-19 restrictions. It’s therefore time to start automating. More pasture-based dairies are therefore turning to the benefits of using cow monitoring systems to automate labour intensive tasks and get accurate data and actionable insights regarding heat, eating and health. Cows talk to us via different ways. Technology is here to listen with us.