Technology isn't always electronic
by Mark Hardesty, D.V.M.
The author is a partner in Maria Stein Animal Clinic, Maria Stein, Ohio.
Three years ago, one of my Christmas gifts was a ColdGear shirt. The giver thought this was the perfect undergear for someone who works outside through the winter. It is thin but keeps you warm by a technology of wicking perspiration away but keeping heat in.
I have worked outside my whole life and never had a shirt that was so expensive. I also thought high necks were restrictive and maybe a little sissy. So the ColdGear got packed away in my "to think about later" pile.
A change of hea(r)t
The following fall, as a booster officer dressing for a frigid football playoff game, I dug out the ColdGear. I stayed warmer than I expected, and it wasn't at all because our team won and was headed to the state championship.
The following week, I bought out the sporting goods store of ColdGear. ColdGear is now a standard part of our uniform issue, and we have also added HeatGear which wicks heat and perspiration away from your skin in summer.
You can do better work when you are comfortable. This technology, while expensive, helps with that.
Why was I so skeptical? Not all technology lives up to its claims, and it is universally expensive. For some, technology has become synonymous with electronics or sophisticated equipment, and many of our technological advances have been in this field.
Electronics have made our dairies work more efficient. But when they don't work, everything stops, and sometimes we've incurred a large cost before we realize that the electronics failed.
It's great when the sort gate has all the cows standing in the catch pen or side rail for shots, breeding or pregnancy checks. When the sort gate doesn't work, cows needed from the group are back in the barn before we know it didn't work. By then, it is too late to have someone manually sort them.
Another interesting phenomenon is reliance on electronics to do what humans had done, expecting the computer to do a better job. An example of this is electronic heat detection. If the human did a great job before, the computer results are usually good. If the human struggled to find heats, we usually find large numbers of open cows at pregnancy check after the computer is installed.
One use of technology that is especially rewarding when we can rely on it and disappointing when it fails is milk weight recording. Dairies that have accurate daily milk recording can't imagine reverting to the minimal information to profitably run a dairy of monthly weights. With today's feed cost, it is even more important to know individual cow production to manage reproduction and culling.
Technology can be simple
Sometimes technology does not involve electronics at all but depends on putting together several principles of nature that solve a problem.
Peter had bedded with sand as long as he owned the dairy and knew the benefits well. He investigated sand separation and decided to build sand separation lanes. These are long narrow, almost flat, lanes where the flow of diluted sand-laden manure is allowed to slow down. It decelerates from the 5 feet per second required to move sand down to 1-1/2 feet per second where sand will settle out, but still traveling more than 1 foot per second when manure solids will settle out. A few times each week sand is scooped out of the lane and placed on a dewatering floor to drain and dry.
These systems, when well designed and operated, can recover 50 to 95 percent of the sand used for bedding. A side benefit of having recycled sand is that stalls are always full because we are not waiting for sand to be delivered. Also, when it will be recovered, we don't hesitate to use it.
Peter chose this system because he wanted a system that was dependable without maintenance. The true principles that come into play with sand lanes are:
1. Gravity always works, and manure flows downhill.
2. Sand is heavier than manure, and a slurry of the two will separate if given the opportunity.
3. Manure systems need to work 360 days a year. The other five to six we will deal with.
4. Sand lanes will freeze if there is not enough flow but have operated below zero on many farms.
Peter understood that the most profitable way to run a dairy is to have the most comfortable cows. He knew sand bedding is the easiest way to make cows comfortable. His challenge as a manager was to make that work on his dairy.
Sand lanes were the technology that solved that issue by applying true principles. There are other ways to have sand bedding, but Peter's dairy saved enough in sand purchases to pay for the lanes in two years.
Cows are a quick repay but don't usually pay for themselves that quickly. He has little maintenance or additional purchases. That is the kind of technology that can fill the Christmas wishes of dairy managers.
If you can't get a sand lane under the tree, consider ColdGear for those in cold climates and HeatGear if it's always hot. Black washes up better than gray or blue. And if you are buying for me, XXL will do.
This article appears on pages 804 & 805 in the December issue of Hoard's Dairyman.