Story in partnership with Nedap.
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. 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.
Controlling the key performance indicators of your farm always starts with the cow and how she behaves. However, you might need an extra pair of eyes to help with that.
When cows talk to us
Cows talk to us in different ways - it can be subtle or more profound - but you'd have to be a trained cow whisperer to be able to see it all and hence understand what it means and what the cow is trying to tell you.
What are the cows doing at night and when you're not around? Do they act differently when you're entering the barn or milking them? Watching each individual cow at all times in an unbiased way is simply not possible. Or is it?
"With cow monitoring technology we are collecting cow behavioural patterns during day and night and translating these into relevant insights related to heat activity, eating, rumination and cow health", Soren Bunte, international account manager at Nedap Livestock Management, explained.
Watching cows with the use of technology is not only more accurate, he says, but it is also more time and labour efficient.
Here are three important farm tasks that are ready for automation:
1 - Automated heat detection
Accurate heat detection is extremely important. 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. It can even have long lasting effects.
Using the human eye (visual observation) to detect heat related cow behaviour 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 cheap and easy. But, tail painting requires skills and experience to apply, as well as to read and interpret. 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. It directly improves heat detection rates.
"Our sensor technology (Nedap CowControl) shows a proven, more than 90 percent accuracy (rate) in heat detection and could improve the six-week-in-calf-rate significantly," Mr Bunte explained.
"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 saved per cow."
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. However, 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.
"Our sensors collect cow data 24/7, 365 days per year, and notify of possible health issues," Mr Bunte said.
"This results in the early detection of mastitis (up to two days before clinical signs are shown), digestive disorders and other important health issues. These insights can also help veterinarians make decisions based on the cow's behaviour over 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," Mr Bunte explained.
"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," he continued.
"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."
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 forces, replacing visual heat detection and tail painting is often the first reason for farmers to invest in cow monitoring technology. 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. However, 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.
"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," Mr Bunte said.
"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 occurrence to juggle all dairy farm activities at once. There simply isn't 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 as dairies increase in size and external labour gets harder to find or halted due to the Covid-19 restrictions. It's therefore time to start automating.
More pasture-based dairies are 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 in different ways. Technology is here to listen with us.
Learn more about Nedap CowControl
Work smarter, not harder in 2021. Leading international genetics and milking equipment suppliers partner with Nedap to include its activity monitoring system in their solutions. Learn more about Nedap CowControl and find your supplier here.
Story in partnership with Nedap.