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Five tools to help boost performance on a dairy farm

There are plenty of gadgets available to save time and resources on-farm while also improving results and performance.

 

Here is an overview of just a few of them...

Ketone monitors

Ketone monitors

What are they?

 

Ketone monitors give an indication of whether a freshly-calved cow is suffering from sub clinical ketosis. A drop of blood is taken from the tail vein and placed on an electronic strip in a handheld device. An electronic display then gives a readout of the level beta hydroxybutyrate (BHB) in the blood.

Why use them?

 

Ketosis is caused by excessive mobilisation of body fat reserves, leading to high ketone levels in the blood. Subclinical disease is more common than clinical disease and will lead to depressed yields plus health and fertility problems. The University College Dublin puts the cost of subclinical disease at £1,174 per 100 cows (€1,320 per 100 cows).

 

Cost

 

The reader is about £15 and strips are about £1.40 each.

 

Benefits and how to use them

 

Vet Charlie Neale from Shepton Vets believes there is huge scope for farmers to make more of ketone monitors.

 

“At the moment, they are under-used by farmers. For the amount of information they give you, they are incredibly cheap,” he says.

 

He suggests using the monitors to test about 12 fresh calved cows. If two or more have a result of more than 1.2mmol/litre, then subclinical ketosis is an issue. Number tested will depend on calving pattern.

 

“In the short-term, you can treat problem animals with propylene glycol and potentially, steroids for more severe cases. Following this, it is important to look back to dry cow and transition cow management to ensure others do not succumb,” says Mr Neale, who suggests nutrition will likely be the main area for attention.

Calving alert gadgets

Calving alert gadgets

In addition to calving alerts as part of automated herd management systems, there are also a number of aids which can help alert farmers to an imminent calving.

 

What are they?

 

A light- and temperature-sensitive device can be placed in the cow’s vagina. When the cow’s waters break, the device is pushed out. Once light is detected, a text message is sent and the farmer receives an automated phone call. Another system uses a tail-mounted sensor which automatically measures tail movement patterns, which increase around calving. At a certain intensity a text is sent to the farmer’s phone.

 

Why use them?

 

Mr Neale has clients using the tail-mounted system and believes there are a number of benefits.

 

“It enables you to monitor cows when you are not there, freeing up your time to do other things. Essentially it lowers the risk of losing a cow and/or calf.”

 

As farmers are alerted to a calving immediately, all of his clients have experienced reduced calf mortality since using these tools.

 

“They have all saved more than one calf in the first year they have had them and this one calf effectively pays for it,” he says.

How to use them

The number of units required depends on calving pattern/number of cows calving at one time.

Colostrometers and refractometers

Colostrometers and refractometers

How do they work?

 

Both colostrometers and refractometers give an indication of the quality of a sample of colostrum based on its thickness.

 

A colostrometer or hydrometer is a glass cylindrical device which is floated in a sample of colostrum to determine the specific gravity of a colostrum sample. How far it sinks gives an indication of immunoglobulin (IgG) levels, which can be measured using a traffic light system on the device.

 

With a brix refractometer, a drop of colostrum is put on a glass prism. The device is then raised towards the light and placed against the eye where a reading can be read off the screen. A brix reading of above 22% is optimal. This can then be converted into an IgG concentration.

 

Cost: Both cost about £15-20.

 

Benefits:

 

These enable farmers to get a reliable indication of colostrum quality, which can be difficult to tell by eye, according to Dr Potter ???WHO IS POTTER??.

Testing colostrum samples enables farmers to only feed and store quality samples. These tools could be used occasionally to gain an understanding of colostrum quality in general or to routinely check the quality of colostrum prior to storing.

 


 

Key considerations


Clostrometer

  • Fragile and can be prone to breaking
  • The sample needs to be at an optimum temperature of 20degC to get an accurate reading. If the sample is too cold the level of immunoglobulins can be overestimated. Too hot and they can be underestimated
  • A reasonable sample volume is needed

Refractometer

  • Quick and easy to use
  • The glass on a refractometer must be cleaned after each use or the reading can be affected
  • Always choose a Brix refractometer as this is relevant to colostrum

Pre-milking teat cleansers

Pre-milking teat cleansers

What are they?

 

An ‘all-in-one’, hand-held, pre-milking preparation unit which combines washing, sanitising, stimulating with rotating brushes and drying cow’s teats in one process.

 

Benefits:

 

The system is said to save farmers time and money as they are only required to visit the cow once for all four processes. The device is marketed as helping to reduce the number of pathogens which cause mastitis and the risk of cross-contamination from milkers’ hands.

 

Consultant Ian Ohnstad, from The Dairy Group, says: “The plus side is the consistency, particularly on rotary parlours. It takes away inconsistencies.”

However he urges farmers to consider the running costs of such a system and the fact brushes may need replacing fairly regularly.

 

Fever tags

Fever tags

What are they?

FeverTags use a specialist temperature probe, which is inserted into the bottom of the calf’s external ear canal. The probe is attached to an additional button ear tag positioned one third of the way along the ear from the head. If body temperature is at 39.7C or above for six hours, a light will flash on the tag.

 

What can they be used for?

 

The tags can be used in calves as an early warning system for pneumonia. By flagging up high temperatures, it may be possible to treat problems early.

 

Benefits

 

Vet Tim Potter from Westpoint Vets says: “As a means of promoting early detection, they are a very useful gadget to highlight animals with elevated temperatures. You can then build treatment protocols around that.”

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