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Increased animal well-being equals increased animal productivity

Randy Tapia for Progressive Dairyman Published on 07 August 2017

The emphasis on animal well-being from industry, regulatory and consumer perspectives only continues to increase. Therefore, the ability to consistently and constantly monitor cow health in real time is gaining in importance because it is a meaningful way to ensure the quality of animal care.

But what is meant by animal well-being? It’s more than a trendy term, and it’s more than simply animal health. In reality, it’s the combination of normal animal physiological function, disease resistance and therapeutic treatments as needed, along with the measurement and prevention of discomfort, illness and stress.

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The concepts are intricately intertwined – and become especially meaningful when dairies use actionable rumination and activity monitoring data to manage individual animals, groups and the entire herd.

Accurate animal monitoring information helps identify physical stressors, enabling management to enhance cow health and fitness, and ensure that facilities, standard operating procedures, feeding management and timely interventions work in harmony to support animal health and overall operational productivity. Not only do your animals benefit, so does your bottom line.

The emphasis is important when it helps prevent a cascade of negative events that can derail a cow’s productivity. Experts at the University of Pennsylvania suggest that “approximately 50 percent of lactations are associated with at least one postpartum disease, and these diseases account for 8 percent of all disease conditions occurring on a dairy farm.

The presence of one postpartum disease increases the risk of infection by another; the animal is also at greater risk from other disease conditions that occur in later lactation.”

Target your focus

Actionable animal monitoring information can help farmers hone their diagnostic protocols and differentiate which animals need immediate treatment and which animals should continue to be monitored.

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For example, researchers in Italy determined cows with lowered rumination times prior to calving had more health problems after calving.

Their data show more than 90 percent of the cows in the group with lower rumination time had clinical diseases in early lactation.

Overall, the results demonstrate the utility of monitoring rumination time around calving and, in particular, during the first week of lactation as a way to identify in a timely fashion those cows at a greater risk of developing a disease in early lactation. Therefore, it makes a lot of sense to intensify monitoring and take immediate action when warranted during this critical period.

These findings are further supported by research published in the December 2016 Journal of Dairy Science, which quantifies rumination’s influence on metritis and subclinical ketosis.

During that trial, researchers at the University of British Columbia compared rumination and feeding data between healthy cows and the afflicted animals during four periods relative to calving.

Results show cows with subclinical ketosis spent less time ruminating during the pre-calving period. In addition, when compared with healthy cows, those with subclinical ketosis and metritis plus subclinical ketosis had lower dry matter intake during the pre-calving period and continued to eat less until day 14 and day 20 postpartum, respectively.

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Dairies often report similar findings when using rumination and activity monitoring on-farm. Producers repeatedly note they would not necessarily have known something was wrong with an animal at early onset of stress or disease other than rumination was down and the cow appeared on the health report.

Upon checking the cow, they intervened as needed; the cow calved and entered the ensuing lactation without incident rather than struggling with metabolic challenges that dragged down milk production and reproductive performance.

Financial implications

Users of actionable information can focus health treatments/interventions on animals that truly need help versus those that are candidates for a career change. The data can also be used to help fine-tune financial decisions and performance.

For instance, the Italian researchers also found milk yield in early lactation was positively correlated with rumination time. In other words, healthier cows produced more milk.

From a farm’s perspective, the results mean monitoring rumination time – and staging interventions as needed during the transition period – meant healthier cows after calving that more rapidly hit their production stride.

If cows produce an average of 10 pounds more milk per day beginning on day three of lactation through the first three weeks because of improved well-being, that positive result can have a significant financial influence. (10 pounds x 18 days of transition x $15 per hundredweight = +$27 per cow) This is above and beyond disease prevention savings.

Stress relief

Animal monitoring systems hold great potential as continual measures of animal well-being. Real-time data collection means the information is dynamic and actionable rather than a snapshot in time as provided by a spreadsheet. In addition, these data help producers and their advisers better understand how animals adapt (or don’t adapt) to changes in housing, nutrition, heat abatement and more.

With heat abatement, for example, a dairy may think it has its cooling measures set for maximum cow comfort, but animal monitoring data may show that is not the case. Dairies using cow panting reports can pinpoint areas of higher animal stress and take steps to increase cooling effectiveness.

It’s not uncommon for farms to find they need to add waterers to exit lanes, add additional cooling to holding areas or simply begin heat abatement strategies sooner than previously thought necessary. They have the data to prove the actions are necessary – and the data to prove action effectiveness. The payback is increased animal productivity thanks to their lowered physical stress.

While milk production drops of 10 percent or more were expected during the heat of summer, many dairies have been able to cut these losses by more than half by adjusting heat abatement strategies based on real-time data.

A common theme runs through all of these factors: The monitoring data spoke when the animal could not. Due to the resulting improvement in animal well-being, the cow, group and herd flourished. And that’s a win for the animals, the farm, the industry and consumers.  end mark

References omitted but are available upon request. Click here to email an editor.

Randy Tapia
  • Randy Tapia

  • Southwest Region Manager
  • SCR Dairy
  • Email Randy Tapia

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