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Rumination data leads to changes at T&C Louters Dairy

Progressive Dairyman Editor Peggy Coffeen Published on 06 August 2015

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Tony Louters invested in rumination monitoring technology because he wanted to make sure there were no gaps in his transition and close-up cows, and along the way, he made a discovery that has changed his dry cow management practices.

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The 600-cow dairy located near Merced, California, implemented the SCR Heatime HR LD system last year. Louters was intrigued by the rumination technology and viewed it as an opportunity to take reproduction and herd health to the next level, particularly by improving fresh cow management and reaching toward his pregnancy rate goal.

He started out collaring cows as they entered the dry pen in June 2014. “That cow’s lactation is set up in the dry period,” he explains. “That’s why it was really important for me to start with the dry cows, not just the fresh cows.”

By the end of the year, the whole herd – dry cows, close-ups, fresh cows and the breeding string – was wearing the monitors. With a full range of data for his herd, Louters wanted to take this information and hone in on areas he felt needed improvement.

Specifically, there was a tendency for cows to calve early, around 270 days or less, and he was also seeing 25 to 30 percent of fresh cows with retained placentas during their first week after calving, along with an early culling rate of 8 percent.

As Louters looked at the rumination data, this was where he began to uncover management-altering information.

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“I noticed a significant drop in rumination when I was moving cows from my dry to close-up pen,” he recalls. Although he was told at first this dip was the result of cows adjusting from a maintenance-level to higher-energy ration, he wanted to dig deeper. “I wasn’t satisfied with that rationale,” he says.

Upon closer examination and cross-referencing with his DairyComp records, Louters connected the rumination drop with routine weekly tasks. Three weeks before calving, cows were vaccinated and moved from the far-off to close-up pen on the same day.

“All of a sudden, the light bulb went on … I was doing too many things at once,” he says. “Approximately 50 percent of the cows that I gave injections to showed up on my rumination list the very next day.”

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Locking up cows, giving injections, moving pens and changing rations all at the same time was just too much stress for many of the cows. This realization prompted Louters to change the management of this vulnerable group. Now, cows receive their vaccination four weeks prior to calving, and then at three weeks prepartum, the pen movement and ration change is made.

The results of this tweak reinforced Louters’ decision. The rate of both retained placentas and early culling dropped down to just 5 percent. “It made a huge difference in what we now see,” he adds.

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Although some of the cows are still flagged on his health report for a drop in rumination following their vaccination, they recover more quickly than in the past. Within a day, they are usually back to normal – a marked improvement over the three to four days it previously took to return to that level when vaccinations and pen moves were combined.

Louters also uses rumination data to make fresh cow treatment decisions on his dairy. Fewer cows are treated because interventions are targeted toward those that need it based on the report. This saves costs and drug usage while allowing employees to be more efficient and cutting down on the amount of time cows spend locked up.

Better dry cow and fresh cow management leads to excellent production and reproduction, Louters believes.Cows are averaging 90 pounds of milk, and since using the monitors, he has hit his herd benchmarks out of the ballpark: Heat detection rate has improved from 65 percent to nearly 70 percent, and pregnancy rate has climbed from 26 percent to an impressive 30 percent.

He credits some of this improvement to the “missing link” in the fresh cow and transition program.

“There are so many times when we have to make decisions on our dairy without enough information,” Louters says. “Now, in the decisions I make, I am very confident and know that I am doing the right thing because I can literally see in a matter of 12 hours whether a treatment protocol is working or not.” PD

Louters presented this information at the 2015 Precision Dairy Conference in Rochester, Minnesota, June 24-25.

PHOTO: Analyzing rumination data helped Tony Louters determine a “bottleneck” occurring during the dry period on his 600-cow dairy. After changing the timing of pen moves and vaccinations, he sees cows thriving through calving and transition, which sets them up to reach an impressive level of milk production and reproductive performance. Photos courtesy of Gláucio Lopes.

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