More and more dairy farmers are appreciating the overall benefits of cow monitoring technology which gives them intelligence and awareness of the cow’s overall health, as well as their readiness to conceive. Such systems are proving their worth, particularly during the critical transition period.
Johnny Mackey, market access manager for Allflex Livestock Intelligence in the UK, says: “With regards to SenseHub, many dairy farmers are telling us ‘we bought it for heat, but we are keeping it for health’.
Furthermore, the early warning of possible health issues helps farmers to maximise the value they get from their professional advisers such as vets and nutritionists.” Allflex Livestock Intelligence is a long time leader in the UK market for automated cow monitoring systems, having introduced Heatime® in 2005.
Although Heatime® Pro+ is still used in some larger herds, the company’s main offering is now SenseHub™ which was launched at UK Dairy Day in 2017.
Mr Mackey says: “SenseHub™ is our main platform.
It’s an internet-based system which is ‘plug and play’.
The cows wear sensors either on their collars or on their ears.
Not only are we the largest company operating in this market, but our sensors are being used to monitor some six million cows across the globe and we also have a reputation for being the most accurate as well.”
Paul Mitcham, Allflex Livestock Intelligence’s national sales manager, believes that using data is an important part of managing cows through the transition period.
He says: “Focusing on animal health and using reliable data to drive decisions is key to successful cow management.
You can see that there is a push to be more proactive in the way we manage animals and to be more efficient in the way we use medicines.
Many of the farms we work with share that philosophy and are increasingly led by data.
“The data that we are able to get from these systems is increasingly sophisticated and when it is combined with farm management software, it is very powerful.
Going forward I think we will very much be solution providers, rather than just a company selling a product.” Mr Mitcham says many of the health problems in dairy herds occur during transition, making health monitoring particularly relevant at this time.
He adds: “Fifteen years ago monitoring was just a heat detection tool.
Today when farmers invest in this technology, they are buying a much broader package.
We have been monitoring rumination since 2006.
“As well as improved accuracy on fertility we are now able to offer monitoring of rumen health.
The health aspect of monitoring has been a real eye-opener for farmers, enabling them to reduce involuntary cullings and to detect health issues 24-48 hours earlier than was previously possible.” Iain Brown is one Allflex Livestock Intelligence’s business development managers for Great Britain covering its Northern territory.
In this role, he spends a lot of time on dairy farms.
He says: “The farmers I visit are fully aware of the importance of health and the effect that poor health has on vet bills, increased medication and reduction in production.
We have many examples showing how health issues have been picked up early, for instance cases of mastitis being identified eight to 12 hours earlier.
It’s no longer just a heat detection system it’s a herd monitoring system.
Systems such as SenseHub are part of the latest generation of non-invasive herd monitoring technologies which act as an extra set of eyes and ears to accurately monitor activity levels, rumination patterns and eating habits, plus a range of other key cow behaviours.
They are designed to build a clear picture of each cow’s health and fertility status, enabling herd managers to make better decisions during the critical transitional phase to improve post-calving performance.
This in turn empowers herd managers to optimise conception rates (through accurate and reliable heat detection – including the detection of weak heats and minimising false positives) and to improve the timing of inseminations to shorten the calving interval.
Modern herd monitoring systems can also reduce or eliminate dependency on pharmaceutical inputs and veterinary intervention during the transition period by providing an early diagnosis of underlying post-partum pathological or physiological conditions.
The early detection of post-parturition conditions can also help to reduce culling rates of freshly-calved cows by identifying those cows in need of additional attention or veterinary intervention.
The ongoing monitoring of cows subsequently enables herd managers to assess the animal’s response to prescribed therapies resulting in reduced recovery times and improved cost-effectiveness of treatments.
“For instance, we have a customer on the west coast of Scotland with a Jersey herd and they take a whole herd approach to management.
They are looking to improve overall herd health and on one of my visits we were able to clearly show the system at work.
There was a clear dip in the rumination graph and I was able to ask the relevant questions to identify that this had been caused by a ration From this they were able to make recommendations on other areas of concern including the ration for cows in late lactation and the dry cow ration.
As a result the farm is now keeping collars on every cow, including during the dry period.” The information from SenseHub can be accessed on a computer or via a mobile app, making it easy for dairy staff to see at any time.
It can provide group as well as individual cow data.
SenseHub also provides extensive after sales support to ensure its customers are fully trained, supported and are getting the full benefit from the system.
Mr Mackey says: “By looking at the health graph of an individual dry cow, you can see exactly what is happening with rumination and where there are any dips.
This allows the farmer to get early warning of any issues during transition and deal with them.
It also helps to increase the time they have with their trusted advisers and improve their effectiveness.” The greater availability of the data and the involvement of all consultants enables a much more integrated, holistic approach to herd and transition management.
Vets or nutritionists can access the information without visiting the site and cows which are in remote locations can also be monitored via a VPN link.
Where there are problems with feed, nutritionists accessing this information can act much more quickly to supplement the ration.
Mr Mitcham says: “Dairy farmers are working as a team with their advisers and this is lifting the status of these consultants and leading to much more efficient cooperation.
It makes for a more proactive approach to herd management, enabling improvements in productivity, reductions in cost and also greater sustainability.” Mr Mackey adds: “When we visit farms, dairy farmers don’t want to talk about the reproduction benefits, but about the difference the system has made to health, the reduction in disease, longevity of the herd, more lactations and reduced replacement rates.
We have lots of examples where the return on investment is comfortably under two years.”change.
“This led to a greater involvement of the nutritionist and they were given access to the system
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