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1408 PD: Make each cow a standout with new dairy technology

Norm Schuring Published on 29 September 2008

Managing a dairy herd is a complex, 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year job.

It’s one that involves the astute observation of individual cows and groups while walking a fine line balancing health, nutrition, reproduction and all production costs.

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The entry of new technology and its use continues to impact dairy operations, including the automation of several tasks associated with cow, herd, parlor and personnel management. Proactive supervision of production, reproduction and health is made easier by cow monitoring systems in the milking parlor and housing areas. These tools offer reliable technology for automating the daily work processes, allowing for improved herd management with increased control. Today’s increasing herd sizes, operating costs and market volatility require more time and control over herd health issues. Production performance with access to immediate management information is critical for success.

Options for streamlined management
There are computer management program options available to keep producers informed through data collection and detailed reports resulting in a cost-saving reduction in labor and time.

Three components are needed to successfully implement and operate a new management system:

1. Individual radio frequency identification (RFID) on each cow in the form of an eartag, neck strap transponder or leg band.

2. A cow RFID reader for the parlor, sort gates and other components.

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3. A computer software program to process and report the information.

RFID can be used for a wide variety of tasks. It can be synchronized with antenna devices to record data from a variety of configurations. These IDs record data on cow activity and production which are read by an antenna located near the cow being monitored. The data is then transmitted to a computer system where it is stored and analyzed by the herdsperson.

New technology systems have reduced the amount of time previously needed to identify, separate and treat cows. A few features of the system include:

• Alarms notifying when changes in production, conductivity or activity levels are detected. Managers are automatically notified as soon as an animal’s activity or performance falls into an abnormal range.

• Analysis of the report will help determine further handling requirements for these animals without having to personally detect changes in health or behavior of each individual cow.

• Automatic sorting gates provide a simple, time-saving, low-stress method of separating an individual or small group of cows from the herd. Individual cows are identified and moved into a separate area as they move from the parlor to housing. This helps maintain herd flow by only retaining the individual cows requiring immediate or scheduled treatments, while allowing the remainder of the group to return to their housing area.

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Proactive management made easier
Producers know the value of promptly diagnosing animal health problems. They also know there is even more value in seeing symptoms in a cow today that indicate she’ll be sick tomorrow. The alarm system has the ability to detect a drop in milk production, an increase in activity levels or other factors, so producers can rapidly assess the condition of cows before a major problem arises.

In the milking parlor, intelligent-controlled milk harvest units combine a variety of options for the rapid use of milking cow data. As units report data for each cow, differences in yield and conductivity can be flagged to establish individual baselines to which future production deviations will be compared.

The technology can also provide information on employees and overall parlor performance. Milk flow sensors monitor the effectiveness of pre-attachment routines by measuring the rate and duration for each cow to milk out. This data can help determine the most effective parlor milking routine and herd requirements and, even more importantly, aid in efficient time management while promoting udder health. Analysis of individual cow production performance, parlor management and system information is easily attainable from the farm office as well as the milking parlor, further extending the value and convenience of automated parlor management.

Reliable heat detection with less costly manpower
Reproductive management can be simplified by heat detection systems that report the activity of heifers and cows on consistent, one- to two-hour intervals. Transmitters report animal IDs back to the computerized program, creating an easily accessed list of cows or heifers with higher-than-normal activity levels, thus identifying cattle in heat.

An activity monitoring system can remove errors from heat detection while lowering labor costs and time spent observing cows. Automating key aspects of milking and herd management allows for enhanced accuracy and, in many instances, a reduction in time between calving intervals along with a decreased cull rate through optimized heat monitoring. Benefits also include more calvings per year and higher annual milk yield averages.

Value surpassing investment
The cost of implementing automated systems is largely determined by the degree of desired automation. Few producers regret their move towards computerized, automated management systems.

Monitoring yield and conductivity enhances the ability to optimize feeding and will proactively identify changes in health and performance, resulting in a significant reduction in costly employee time and labor requirements. Many features are easy to customize to specific herd needs and can be integrated to work within a dairy’s current facilities.

With the implementation of an automated milking and management system, herdspersons can monitor, identify and sort individual cows from the comfort of their office. Wireless options allow producers to receive updates on animals requiring treatment or showing signs of heat from compatible handsets while attending to other management tasks. Producers can feel comfortable in their decision-making and be assured cows are being cared for on an individual basis.

By way of automated parlor and herd management functions, employee labor can be better utilized, improving profitability and productivity. Herd managers will also benefit from reliable, consistently available, accurate information, allowing for a focus on individual cows to optimize time and animal management. PD

Norm Schuring
Vice President for
WestfaliaSurge

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