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Technology delivers practical benefits

Rangiora dairy farmer Alastair Robinson loves his cows. He is passionate about breeding and managing cows to their potential.

He is a hands-on farmer with a good team and performance, so perhaps not an obvious example of a farm that might be considered in need of technology to help manage cow health and fertility.

Experience has shown that a cow monitoring system can deliver real benefits for even the best-run operation. Nearly 12 months on from fitting Allflex animal monitoring collars to his cows, Alastair is now a firm believer that the collars have made a real difference. He says they will deliver a return on investment sooner than expected and he “has no hesitation recommending the system to everyone”.

The farm has traditional winter milk supply contracts and cows are calving about 10 months of the year to spread milk supply. Collar fitting was staggered to ease the workload and cash flow, as well as to target cows before mating. The system only takes 7-10 days to build up reference data for each cow before unusual behaviour can be flagged up – but it took a little longer for the team to build up confidence in the system. Heat patches were continued for a few months until it became apparent they were giving false positives when cows were rubbing against trees and failed to identify cows in heat that the collars were detecting. With four people on the team who can inseminate the cows, the system’s ability to identify the best time to mate has been a real bonus. Milking has become easier because the pressure to sustain a focus on mating over such an extended period has been removed. More cows than ever before have calved this autumn and recent scanning has confirmed there are 80 less cows not in-calf compared to last season. This may partly reflect a better grass growing season but he believes the collars have undoubtedly helped. The system is very accurate at indicating the best time to breed but also identifying empty cows, which Alastair believes may make pregnancy scanning unnecessary in the future.

Alastair has found health alerts to be another key benefit of the system. Again, experience has increased confidence in the system, which can identify cows with acute issues before they occur – for example, the system generated a text message for a cow at 5.30am that looked fine at 6.30am but then succumbed to milk fever after milking.

The system has also been very effective at identifying cows that might be described as “off-colour” that would otherwise have gone unnoticed. The herd’s veterinarian has created a suite of non-antibiotic treatments for cows not running a temperature and with a Health Index below 80. In the majority of cases, a simple therapy puts them on the road to recovery rather than their condition becoming clinical, which has to be good for animal welfare and performance.

As Chairman of the Executive Committee for the 2019 South Island Agricultural Field Days, Alastair found being in charge of the grounds and layout for exhibitors meant he was away from the farm for extended periods. By then he had faith that the system would reliably and simply support his team whilst he was away – further demonstrating that this new technology can work hand-in-hand with farmers with traditional values.

For further information, contact your local Nutrition Specialist.

Article supplied by Dr. Rob Derrick, Head Nutritionist.