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Two dairies take a bite out of repro with activity and rumination monitors

PD Editor Peggy Coffeen Published on 09 December 2013

Two dairy producers talked about how they use activity and rumination data captured from their monitoring systems to better manage reproduction, as well as overall herd health, in a panel discussion led by the University of Wisconsin – Madison’s Paul Fricke during the PDPW Herdsperson Conference held last week in Appleton and Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin.

Dan Reuter, Reuter Dairy, Peosta, Iowa, incorporated a monitoring system on his 850-cow dairy four years ago.

Across the border in southwest Wisconsin, Sarah Johnsen began using a similar system in 2007 on her family’s 900-cow Majestic View Dairy located near Lancaster. More recently, they have transitioned from tagging half of the herd with an activity monitor to tagging the entire herd with the updated version of ai24 that also tracks rumination.



Both herds use Semex’s ai24 herd monitoring solution, which utilizes SCR’s Heatime Technology.

Q: Describe your reproduction program.
REUTER: At approximately 44 days in milk, cows receive a Lutalyse shot to clean them up and get them going. A second Lutalyse shot is given at 58 days, and from that shot and using activity monitors, we cherry-pick. We breed everything that comes into a good standing heat. After that, on Day 70, anything that did not show a heat and is not bred goes on the OvSynch cycle.

After the OvSynch cycle, and if they didn’t settle on the first breeding, then the activity monitors are relied on to pick up heats after that. That’s on the cowside. On the heifer side, collars go on at 12.5 months of age. We breed off of the activity monitors in the heifer herd as well.

JOHNSEN: We start them on PreSynch at Day 36. We do two shots of Lutalyse, and we cherry-pick. From the data, our first lactation heifers were lower on the PreSynch breeding, so I did my own experiment. These heifers had to be over 90 on the activity chart before I would cherry-pick them. If they were below that, I just let them go through the OvSynch. That seemed to balance out, and we are getting more pregnancies.

That’s just my own theory, it has not been proven, but it seemed to work for me. The higher the activity, the more likely they are to get pregnant. And if they don’t get bred in that cherry-picking stage, we put them on OvSynch. We pregnancy check at Day 32. If they are open with a CL (corpus luteum), they go right back onto a ReSynch protocol. If they are open without a CL, they get a shot of GnRH, and then they are put on ReSynch the next week.


Q: How are you using rumination data to manage your herd health and reproduction?
REUTER: Rumination has been the most intriguing part of the whole collar system. It has moved ahead of activity. Rumination is used greatly on fresh cows. We have collars on all of the cows on our farm. First calf heifers get it the day they calve, and we watch their rumination minutes. It monitors the cud chewing and swallowing, and compares it to the day before and week before. We use it in the fresh cow pens.

As far as catching animals in heat, I think we catch them a little sooner than we did before, but the biggest thing is that we are not doing the protocols or spending the money on the cows that have calved and are doing very well. Everyone has their protocols for second and third lactation cows – whether it is calcium, propolene glycol.

Those are the cows that when they calve, their rumination minutes are climbing, they are doing what they are supposed to do, and we are zeroing out all the protocols on those type of cows. Also, we don’t have a post fresh pen on our farm. They go right to general population. We used to drop headlocks in six different pens. Now, we only drop the headlocks in pens where the computer has alerted me on certain cows. That helped me out tremendously.

JOHNSEN: Every morning, I print out a list of our fresh cows that are dropping or have low rumination. I sort through the list to determine who needs to be looked at. I specifically make sure I check those cows.

Changes in rumination are an indication of something going wrong in general. A couple of weeks ago, we had a handful of heifers that were not coming up on rumination like we had been seeing, and a handful of cows that were jumping up and down on their rumination. I called my nutritionist and he made some adjustments. Within a day, they had all leveled out and rumination started going up. I am still getting used to looking at all my lists, who I need to go look at and who I can ignore.

Q: What trends do you see with activity and rumination in relation to heat stress?
REUTER: It’s very obvious during the heats of high producing cows. Their heats aren’t nearly as long, nor is activity as high. What’s interesting is that with the activity monitoring system, you can catch those cows that come in heat in the middle of the night, when you are not there or when there are not people there who are trained to watch for them. When the weather is cooler, there are cows not in estrus that will go and ride the estrus cows.


Based on timing of the year, you have to learn to read into the graphs a little more. Activity will not be as high or as long (in the summer), but that’s when you have to make the determination whether you want to spend the money to put semen in her or not. The system doesn’t do that for you.

JOHNSEN: When we get three days in a row of hot and humid, we see a serious spike that shows a large group of cows that need to be bred. I have learned that I sometimes have to ignore some of that because in our barn, when it is very hot, the cows all get up and stand in the middle. That’s not their normal activity, so the system is thinking they are in heat, but they are not. That’s the issue we have with really hot days. You just have to know the environment that they are in.

Q: What other observations have you made using the activity and rumination data?
REUTER: Our nutritionist gets an email once a week with a record of what cows have done by their groups. He can click on it and see if there are any hiccups. In one case, we noticed a hiccup in our rumination, and we were wondering what it was about. My dad does all of the feeding on our farm and takes off one day each week. Every Thursday, the cows were clicking. We realized that my dad takes off Wednesdays and the hired man mixes that day. We retrained him, and once we got it corrected, it straightened right out.

JOHNSEN: There are a couple of things you would see from this system that you would not necessarily see from watching for heats, like cystic cows. When I feel I just looked at a cow a couple of days before, I can look at her chart and see that every five days she is showing heat. Or, I may notice that a cow keeps getting put back on OvSynch and she is never showing a heat. I look back and see that she is showing tiny little heats.

This way, I can compare their heats or know a little bit sooner that she is going to be an issue. It is really all about how you manage it. Just because the information is there, it doesn’t mean the cows are being taken care of. You still have to go out and deal with them. But it can really save you time if you are using it right. PD


Peggy Coffeen
Progressive Dairyman