Imagine you’re cruising down the highway toward a perfect vacation. The only thing between you and your destination is the road.
Soon, you come across a tollbooth. Being the prepared driver you are, you mapped out your route and paid the tolls ahead of your trip, assuming that the little pass in your car indicating those payments would allow you to bypass the tollbooth and get to your destination quicker. But you find that everyone has to go through the booth anyway, and those that don’t need service are simply waved through.
Not only does this slow down your trip, but it’s frustrating and stressful. Wouldn’t it be easier and more efficient to only stop the people that still need to pay and allow the ones that have taken care of business to keep moving along?
A cow’s I-Pass
Luckily for travelers, many regions across the country have adopted programs like I-Pass or EZ-Pass that do let drivers pay ahead of their trip and skip the tollbooths. But what does this example have to do with dairy farming?
Chris Szydel of Pagel’s Ponderosa Dairy in Wisconsin thinks of his herd’s activity monitoring system as that I-Pass. Based on the data from the SCR collars the farm’s 6,500 cows wear, animals that need attention can be checked without disrupting the rest of the cows that are going about their business with no problems.
For Szydel’s two dairy locations, this has allowed them to eliminate the daily use of headlocks. Instead, a sort pen off of the parlor separates animals that need to be bred or otherwise require attention. After that change, both dairies saw 5-pound climbs in milk production.
Szydel also explained that the activity monitors have changed their treatment plans, resulting in less antibiotics used on the operations. “If a cow looks like she has a metabolic condition but has good rumination, we let her work through it,” he said during a presentation at the Dairy Cattle Reproduction Council annual meeting. This perspective and the system’s reports of cows that need to be checked or moved means the farms use less labor, too.
In addition to letting healthy cows remain unstressed, Syzdel said the activity monitors help them identify sick cows 25% quicker, usually one to two days before a drop in production. Before, those daily milk weights along with walk-throughs of the pens — which stressed all cows — were used to find cows that needed treatment.
The activity system has also made a difference in their reproductive program, he explained. With more details now about when a cow is ovulating, they can target either a morning or afternoon breeding, compared to the once-a-day breeding that was used prior to installing the system. Fewer hormones are given, and palpated pregnancy rate reaches 75% to 80%, Szydel said.
Even with these accomplishments, Szydel still believes there are more opportunities to use the activity system to their advantage. For example, they have just started using the collars on breeding-age heifers, and they hope to combine the activity data with cow cooling information in the future. “It really has an impact on the cows,” Szydel noted.
Anything that reduces stress keeps animals in the fast lane to success.