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All ears, new sensor is a triple threat

PD Editor Karen Lee Published on 11 February 2013

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Activity monitors continue to draw interest within the dairy industry. Producers are familiar with pedometers for activity and collars for activity and rumination; in this New Technology feature, we introduced you to an ear tag sensor that measures activity, rumination and temperature.

We asked the manufacturer of the Agis CowManager SensOor,
Q. What enhancements have you made to the sensor in the past year?

  • Launched the new SensOor EID version, new housing, same chip. Snap on/off an EID tag, for direct identification in parlor or sort gate and easy attachment.
  • Easy data integration with different systems like DairyComp305, PCDart, Herde, DeLaval, Minda, BouMatic, GEA, Lely, Superkuh, Dairymaster, S.A.E. Afikim
  • High accuracy in grazing minutes combined with accurate behavior, eating, ruminating and temperature
  • Connects to different sort gates and scan equipment
  • Reliable detection of diseases (mastitis, ketosis, metritis, SARA, E-coli, BRD, blunt, etc.)
  • Cooperation with nutritionists and veterinarians facilitated by an authorized access point
  • Better dashboard performance, which is also 10 times faster
  • Fully upgraded mobile app with new functionality like groups and alert-cows
  • Extra languages, now in Dutch, English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and German for desktop, tablet and smartphone
  • Better functionality for small, middle-sized and large dairies, with different settings like voluntary waiting period or do not breed
  • Extended reports on paper for large dairies, with selecting options per group, pen or corral
  • Connection to feed mixer and different ration calculation programs
  • Five-year guarantee with a battery that can last 10 years
  • Locator with “break-out alert” per cow, which is also an anti-theft system

—Gerard Griffioen, Agis Automatisering

ARTICLE:

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There are pedometers for activity, boluses for rumination and neck tags for both – but listen up, because now there is an ear tag to monitor activity, rumination and temperature. The combination of all three is delivering data that two dairymen are raving about.

It all began five years ago when Gerard Griffioen, CEO of Agis Automatisering in the Netherlands, was visiting Sander Penterman at Dutch Dairy in Thorp, Wisconsin. Griffioen watched as Penterman was temping fresh cows, a chore he said he’d rather not have to do.

Griffioen, who has a background in civil and mechanical engineering, came up with the idea for the Agis CowManager SensOor, which pulled the thermometer from Penterman’s hands and placed it in the cow’s ear.

“I got the idea to optimize and do it smarter,” Griffioen says. “Not only temperature, but complete behavior.”

How it works
It is a double temperature sensor that can take multi-point measurements. It also records movement specific to eating, ruminating, walking and estrus activity. By combining temperature with activity, a producer can see if the cow is lying with rumination or lying without rumination with a temperature.

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Data is collected by the minute in a sensor the size of your thumb which clicks into a specially designed ear tag.

The ear tag has a nylon-reinforced pin that allows the male and female parts to rotate individually. This keeps losses to less than 1 percent, Griffioen reports.

Since installing the system in June, Penterman says he has only lost two of the sensors.

AGIS SensOor

Routers placed within 100 yards of the cows collect data from the sensors every hour and feed it back to a central coordinator, which delivers the information to a computer equipped with a router.

The only requirement is that a farm has a computer with Internet access. The company’s software compresses the data so it can be seen anywhere with the use of a Web browser. Alerts and full reports can also be seen with a smart phone app.

Heat detection
At the time of Griffioen’s visit, Penterman was looking at a couple of heat detection systems. “I always wanted to improve the pregnancy rate of my cows,” Penterman says. Plus, he liked the idea of reducing the number of injections he was giving his cows.

Prior to this sensor, Penterman was using a double-Ovsynch protocol to breed his 850-cow herd. “The results were OK,” he says, “but not wow.”

Dutch Dairy used to begin its breeding program at 43 days in milk, but now that it no longer breeds on standing heats or with the use of double-ovsynch it finds it is breeding better at 50 to 60 days in milk.

Pregnancy rate for this 26,000-pound herd has increased dramatically. In the last half of 2012, Penterman says his farm had a pregnancy rate of 25 to 26 percent. In January, it was 30 percent. That is up from 19 to 20 percent in the first half of the year. “Even this summer we stayed steady,” he says. “Before we dropped to single digits in the heat.”

Like Penterman, Jan-Cees Verhoef and Aeltsje Kiestra purchased this system primarily for heat detection. They began dairying in Colby, Wisconsin, last year with 250 springing heifers.

What appealed to him about this system in particular was that the sensors would be placed on all of the cows, not just those in the breeding stage. Having dealt with the struggles of removing transponders when he farmed in The Netherlands, he knew he wanted something for 100 percent of the cows. “When you compare prices, you get more with this,” Verhoef says.

While he doesn’t have much to report in terms of heat detection, since he just began using it in early December, Verhoef does say the vet checklist is smaller because the system catches open cows and they are rebred before the vet comes.

Herd health
In terms of herd health, Verhoef is impressed with its performance. “It’s more amazing than you think,” he says. Within seven weeks, it found two sick cows in the herd. Because they were caught early, Verhoef was able to treat them quickly, which he credits to saving the life of one of the cows.

Through the system, he was also able to monitor how the cows were responding to the treatment given. “I could see how they were acting through treatment on an hourly basis – how they were eating, ruminating and their temperature,” he says.

If the cows didn’t show a response he could alter treatment faster than what he normally could do.

Penterman is also amazed with its accuracy in detecting sick cows. Previously, his farm relied on watching changes in milk weights as recorded in DairyComp 305 , but those only came in three times a day, after each milking. Penterman now receives new data every two hours.

He reports the sensors can identify a sick cow one day before it is noticed through milk production.

It doesn’t keep the cow from getting sick or tell a producer why she is sick, but it does allow for earlier diagnosis and treatment, which can help prevent a drop in milk production.

Illness isn’t the only health factor he’s found it helps with. Penterman says it also identifies if a cow is having difficulty calving. That alone has saved him a calf or two.

Rumination
A recent update to the software allows a producer to see how often a cow chews her cud. This proprietary algorithm can help a dairy producer or nutritionist see how cows react to changes in the ration and make adjustments faster than waiting for a milk response.

Penterman says he has just started working with that function but can already identify his most efficient cows by looking at ruminations per minute.

Labor savings
Verhoef says this system saves him time because he is no longer walking pens for heat detection three times a day. He can also pull a fresh cow list and see in 10 seconds what they are eating and their temperature.

“I still like to go see my cows, but now I go more with a mission to the pen,” he says, noting it’s to find two or three cows instead of observing an entire pen.

Verhoef has the sensor on all of his cows and breeding age heifers. He’ll soon be trying the sensor on his baby calves, a group where this sensor has yet to be tested.

Because Penterman has his heifers raised at a grower, he only uses the sensor on his milk cows. However, he does place the ear tag in calves so all he needs to do is activate the sensor and pop it in when the heifers return to the farm ready to freshen.

Penterman checks the system every morning when he gets to the barn.

“It takes me 10 minutes,” he says. It provides him with a column of cows that are in heat and another one of cows that are sick. The list can be sorted by lactation, fresh date, etc.

After retrieving his list, Penterman goes out to the barn to find the cow, monitor her behavior and double check her temperature. “It found cows that Dairy Comp (milk weights) said there was nothing wrong, because (she got sick) after she went through the parlor,” he says.

Penterman had a full-time employee check temperatures and monitor for ketosis and displaced abomasums. Since Jan. 1 all of those responsibilities have been eliminated.

Now the only cows checked are those that come up on the list. That has reduced time spent checking cows by 1.5 to 2 hours, he estimates. That employee has since been given a different set of responsibilities.

“In the past we over did it,” Penterman says. “I believe it is normal that a cow can have a temperature for a day.” Now the computer will pick up on that right away.

Having the custom list also helps the cows. Without a sort gate on the dairy, all fresh cows were manually sorted and left in a nearby treatment pen to be checked.

Now they can all return to their pen immediately after milking and someone will later find only those that need attention.

He says he’d like to see the addition of GPS, which would help locate a cow in a pen. Griffioen has just released an EID-SensOor that can be combined with an electronic ID and used for sort gates, milk meters and locating which pen the cow is in.

Both producers also say they would like to see it synch with their Dairy Comp records, which Griffioen says is now ready. It can also connect to PCdart , GEA , Lely , Boumatic and DeLaval .

Each router costs $625 and the sensors are $50 to $60 per cow, depending on the quantity purchased. There are two different purchase options on the software, either $21 per cow per year or $1 per month per module per cow.

All three modules – fertility, health and feeding – can be purchased, or a producer can only activate one or two to suit his needs.

According to Penterman, he is already seeing a payback, as the farm has reduced its dinoprost tromethamine (Lutalyse) and GnRH usage by 90 percent.

Griffioen acknowledges there are some dairy producers that might be skeptical. Therefore, he is willing to work with them to test it on a portion of the herd for a couple of months at a small cost before they make a full-purchase decision.

Verhoef says he has no regrets on his purchase, claiming, “I can’t live without it. It is the first thing I look at in the morning and the last thing in the evening.”

A similar ear tag sensor is in development at the University of Kentucky. Born from a Homeland Security Grant to aid in traceability. This sensor monitors temperature and activity in three axes, but not rumination, and has been tested in beef cattle.

Craig Carter, director of the University of Kentucky Veterinarian Diagnostic Laboratory and professor of epidemiology in the College of Agriculture, reports a PhD candidate created an algorithm that can discern healthy from sick cattle, generating alerts for animals to be pulled into sick pens for evaluation and treatment.

In a recent study, compared to the farm hands for the university’s 100-steer herd, the sensor had good sensitivity, Carter says. In some instances the cows were identified by the sensor days before visual signs were displayed and picked up by the cowboys.

Not yet commercially available, Carter says the next step is to field test this inexpensive, reusable sensor. For beef cattle, a sensor like this can create a lifetime health record, which could be tied to marketability, a decrease in mortality and morbidity in the herd and an overall improvement of meat animal welfare.

The technology of cattle monitoring sensors is ever-changing. “Ultimately, these sensors could tell us rumination, heart rate, pulse ox, etc. There’s no limit to what you can do,” Carter says.

For now, this triple-threat combination is taking animal monitoring to another level and in one of the industry’s most common forms of identification – an ear tag. PD

If you’re interested in precision technology, make plans to attend the Precision Dairy Conference and Expo coming June 2013 in Minnesota.

00_lee_karen

Karen Lee
Editor
Progressive Dairyman

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