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Monitoring helps improve transition management

The Roundelm Herd, based in Elmore, Gloucestershire, is achieving increased fertility rates and finding it easier to manage transition as a result of installing the SenseHub herd monitoring system from Allflex Livestock Intelligence.

The SenseHub app enables Ian Freeman (left and inset) and the other staff to monitor the cows around the clock.
The SenseHub app enables Ian Freeman (left and inset) and the other staff to monitor the cows around the clock.

The farm, which has 420 milking cows with 300 followers, averages 12,000 litres/annum.

It occupies 161 hectares (400 acres) including rented land and 113ha (280 acres) of this is used for growing maize.

Roundelm employs seven full-time staff including herd manager Geoff Bates and youngstock manager and deputy herd manager Ian Freeman, as well as two part-time staff.

Mr Freeman, who has been with the business for sevenand-a-half years, says: “We milk three times a day and the herd is housed all-year-round.

We also calve throughout the year and all AI has been carried out in-house for the past five years.

Until recently we only used sexed semen on heifers.

“As a business our main objective is to maintain current milk yields while improving the herd’s longevity.

We aim to increase fat production and improve fertility through the use of genomic testing and technology.

We want to breed a slightly smaller animal which can maintain her condition with a little less intervention.” As part of its drive to achieve this objective, the SenseHub system was installed at Roundelm in December 2019.

A total of 460 Allflex cSense collars were purchased and part-funded by a small business productivity grant.

These collars have been fitted to both heifers and cows.

There are 54 heifers located a mile away from the main site.

Their collars are monitored using a SenseHub-based system via a VPN link.

Mr Freeman says: “We used to use a traditional walk and chalk method and typically we would glove anything which looked as if it had been bulling, even if we weren’t 100% sure.

This would take around two hours every day.

Once we introduced SenseHub, we no longer had to do that.”


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The SenseHub system was installed for the Roundelm Herd in December 2019.
The SenseHub system was installed for the Roundelm Herd in December 2019.

Mobile phone access

 

SenseHub data can been accessed using a mobile phone app and four members of staff – the herd manager, youngstock manager, feeding tractor driver and lead milker – all have the app loaded on their phones.

Mr Freeman says: “Everyone is always aware of what is going on with each group of animals, which means we know in advance if a major problem is developing and if a cow isn’t at her best.

For those few truly unexpected or unpredictable problems, SenseHub more than pays for itself.

“Because we’re milking three times a day there’s always someone on-site between the hours of 3.45am and 9.45pm, which means there’s usually someone here to spot cows calving.

“However, on the odd occasion when a cow starts calving in the middle of the night or develops complications, the app again earns its keep by alerting us to anything untoward.

“Post-calving the SenseHub system monitors cows in the early fresh calvers group for their next heat.

If the system hasn’t seen a heat within the first 50 days post-partum an ‘off-sync’ report will be generated and she’ll be highlighted for veterinary attention.” The SenseHub system has proved highly effective for the Roundelm team, delivering improved productivity and time-saving benefits.

As outlined above at least two hours a day have been saved by eliminating the need for ‘walk and chalk’.

Improved fertility has been a major benefit.

In January 2019, prior to installing the system, conception rates were less than 30%.

By March 2021 this had risen to 40%, a 10 percentage-point increase.

Sexed semen has been used on heifers for a number of years but was not used to artificially inseminate cows until recently.

As a result of the herd’s improved conception rate due to the introduction of SenseHub, sexed semen was used on cows for the first time in September 2020.

Mr Freeman says: “We’re now using sexed semen on the herd’s best heifers and cows based on their genomic scoring, with conventional Angus semen used to inseminate everything else.”

Roundelm statistics

  • Displaced abomasums reduced from six cases in 2019 to zero cases in 2020
  • Conception rate from less than 30% to 40%
  • Submission rate risen to 69% n Percentage of cows eligible for service subsequently served – 40%
  • 100-day in-calf rate risen to nearly 55%
  • Age at first calving: 24 months
  • Calving interval currently at 380-385 days

Monitoring benefits for the Roundelm Herd

  • Improved fertility scores
  • Time savings n Improved insemination timing accuracy
  • Improved conception rates
  • Lower drug usage and reduced veterinary bills
  • Less vet time dealing with anoestrus cows and more time spent PDing

Key improvements

 

Other key improvements which can be attributed to SenseHub include a reduction in displaced abomasums.

In 2020 there were no cases, compared to six cases in 2019.

This represented a significant reduction in vet bills as well as the subsequent improvement in productivity.

Submission rates have risen since the system was installed and currently stand at 69%.

The 100-day in-calf rate has also risen throughout 2020 and is now approaching 55%.

Mr Freeman says: “Our calving interval is currently at between 380 and 385 days, which is remarkable given the fact we’re averaging 12,000 litres and have such high conception rates.” SenseHub monitoring is making a considerable contribution to the crucial transition period.

Mr Freeman adds: “Cows are dried off at 56 days before their predicted calving date and are moved onto a crash diet around two to three weeks in advance of this.

For us Monday is drying off day when we’ll move the next group of late lactation cows away from the milking group and into specific dry cow accommodation.

“In the run-up to calving we use SenseHub to monitor feed intake and rumination.

Any drops or dips in activity or rumination is a clear indication there could be an underlying problem worthy of further investigation.

“SenseHub also enables us to accurately monitor and assess each animal’s rumination and activity patterns and levels in the run-up to drying off, as calving approaches and ahead of the subsequent lactation.

Other farmers benefiting from herd monitoring using SenseHub

 

“I look at the SenseHub app each morning to find out which cows are in-heat and when they should be inseminated.

It’s like having an extra set of eyes and ears and if a cow starts calving or is showing signs of stress or ill health, my phone will alert me so that I can take prompt action.”

 

Jim Fingland, Castle Douglas, Dumfries

 


 

“By alerting us to potential signs of ill health or distress – often before any physical symptoms have been displayed – SenseHub has enabled us to treat problems far earlier.

As a result we’ve had fewer displaced abomasums, fewer cases of milk fever and fewer difficult calvings.”

 

Andrew Eastabrook, Hartpury University, Gloucestershire

 


 

“We have a better understanding of each cow’s health, heat and stress parameters and can act pre-emptively to combat problems such as lameness, mastitis and poor fertility.

We’re detecting more heats which has enabled us to tighten our calving interval.”

 

Olly Read, Cullompton, Devon

 


“We’re missing fewer silent heats and culling fewer animals due to fertility problems.

We’re also using 10-20% less semen and have started using sexed semen from bulls which were previously beyond our budget.”

 

Mike and Caroline Hawking, Beaworthy, Devon

Proactive steps

 

“Last year we didn’t incur a single displaced abomasum, simply because we were aware of potential problems before they manifested which meant we could take proactive steps to minimise risks.

“We can monitor how much each animal or group of animals is eating, if there’s a drop-off in consumption, SenseHub alerts us so we can either intervene with a specific animal or amend the group’s ration accordingly.

“We have a clear picture and detailed understanding of each cow’s performance and habits 24/7.

If we’re doing things properly, we get very few alerts.

But when we do, we can intervene far earlier than if we had to wait for any clinical signs of deteriorating health.

“We work hard to deliver a consistent ration with no abrupt dietary changes.

SenseHub enables us, as a team, to work towards that simple goal,” Mr Freeman adds.

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