- Sense of Sensors study
Making sense of sensors in transition cow care
We are learning fast, but there are still a vast amount of discoveries and innovations to be done. In this article, we will share facts, applications, and some ideas with you.
Define the question
Transforming data from sensors into useful information starts with, “What question do you want to answer?” In daily, operational work, this question is “What should I do?”
The first point to consider is, “What does the data tell us?” We like to work with the structure of “feed back,” “process indicators,” and “feed forward.”
Feed back looks backward. It consists of results and outcomes. You can learn from it, and you can use it to decide targets and thresholds, but you cannot steer on it. For that, you are too late, and the result is already there. Examples of this are calving interval, interval to conception, and percentage of cows with retained placenta.
Process indicators show how the process is going at this moment. You use it in your daily work. Examples of this are milk production per cow, dry matter intake, rumen fill, and insemination rate.
Feed forward provides information that will guide results in the future. When feed forward indicators are good, the process will produce results that match your end goals. When they are not okay, you will want to correct things. For instance, body condition score (BCS) during the dry period is feed forward for fresh cow problems. Foot health of dry cows is feed forward, as it needs to be good to prevent fresh cow problems. Feed intake, rumen fill, and BCS during the start of lactation are feed forward for the process of getting cows pregnant.
There is more interesting stuff to come. The sensors can show group behavior patterns over the days and enable us to compare one day with the other. Cows are animals of strict routines, and the feedbunk should never be empty. This we all know, and sensors make it possible to monitor this 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
For this, you first look at behavioral patterns, which should be as identical as possible between days. And second, there should not be a long period where only a few cows are eating, followed by a long period with maximum eating activity.
Through our multiyear, multifarm field study of farms in the Netherlands, we hope to unveil more practical uses for sensors in daily farm operations.