Joe Allen of Allendale Holsteins in Vergennes, Vermont, doesn't have x-ray vision when it comes to cow health. But he has the next best thing-rumination data. Thanks to a scientific breakthrough, new technology is helping harness the power of rumination and correlating this critical function with monitoring cow health and improving individual cow management.
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Earlier Signs of Health Events, Earlier Diagnosis
Dairy producers, veterinarians and nutritionists have long relied on cud chewing-both the sights and sounds of rumination-as a key monitor of dairy cow health, and with good reason. Because cows ruminate 450 – 500 minutes per day, a drop in rumination time is a clear sign that there's something impacting rumen function or animal well-being. Rumination monitoring can provide an early window for diagnosis.

This knowledge offers producers the opportunity to intervene and head off challenges before they would otherwise have realized a problem. As Allen has learned, "The cow may look alright, but the thermometer will say differently when you check her."

Allen has experienced this scenario first-hand. "During a recent pneumonia outbreak, we had a cow come up on the health report of the SCR Activity and Rumination Monitoring System," he explains, noting that at first glance you wouldn't think she was sick. "She appeared healthy and was milking well, but we checked her anyway and found that she had a fever of 107 degrees F. We treated her right away, she recovered quickly and she never lost any milk production. The system always picks up sick cows; I can give you about a dozen examples of this."

Furthermore, it helps users find the cows more quickly than ever before. "Cows that look perfectly healthy, but have reduced rumination data, will almost always have a significant problem 24 hours later if you do nothing," says Joe's wife, Dr. Becky Allen, a veterinarian who has used the system with other clients, as well. "Usually, she'll run a higher temperature if you check her, but you'd not know that she's clinically ill just by looking at the cow."

What Allendale Holsteins has experienced has been confirmed in university research. One research trial1 compared electronic rumination monitoring with visual observation of rumination monitoring, and found the electronic system results were highly correlated with those of visual observation. Monitoring rumination with an electronic system also provides a numerical value for each day's rumen function, and compares it to the individual animal's average. This can prove especially effective when changes in rumination patterns occur before acute symptoms of a major health event are seen. "The system helps us catch things much earlier and improve the odds of a successful outcome," says Becky Allen. "We can intervene earlier and work with cows that are not as sick as if you'd waited for clinical signs to appear. You can also see the impact of ration changes using the data."

Channeling Rumination's Power
"The health information we've been able to use since we installed the SCR Activity and Rumination Monitoring System in December 2011 has really been helpful," says Joe Allen. The system features revolutionary technology that combines rumination, heat detection and cow identification functionality in one unit, giving dairy producers a tool to monitor their cows 24 hours a day. This technology will allow dairy producers to shift the way they manage and interact with their herd, providing value through early detection of health problems and estrus, which can translate to increased production, higher pregnancy rates and fewer costs associated with disease treatment. The system enables the farmers to make decisions and manage their herd in an efficient and cost-effective way.

Adopting this technology has been a boost to Allen's bottom line, as the activity monitoring component has helped the dairy cut synchronization protocol hormone costs by roughly $1,000 per month. Factoring in the amortized cost of the system, Allen estimates, "We are putting about $350-400 in our pocket each month, and we've seen a 10% increase in pregnancy rate." Joe expects the system to pay for itself in 18 – 24 months.

"The system has really changed our reproductive management," notes Becky Allen. "We can be more efficient with our herd check time-a lot of cows that would have been found open previously have been found in estrus by the system prior to the herd check and rebred. We can spend more time with cows that may have had a problem during transition or are noncycling, meaning we can utilize our time better."

Joe Allen adds that the system offers another bonus. "I can work on other projects and spend about 15 minutes twice a day with the data to manage heat detection and herd health. It's given us the freedom to not be so concerned about whether anyone's catching cows in heat or identifying sick cows. We just check the report and the information is there. Once you get the collars installed (which isn't difficult), it's the easiest system in the world to use."

SCR is a leading developer of advanced technologies for dairy farms and a driving force for progress in the industry. SCR provides dairy producers with revolutionary herd monitoring solutions to manage individual cows, regardless of herd size. Technologies include Heatime® heat detection and health monitoring systems which utilize unique collar tags, advanced milking controllers based on the most successful electronic milk measurement devices in the market today, and DataFlowTM, a centralized complete management software. Over 2 million cows in more than 15,000 farms worldwide are monitored using SCR's collar tags while their technology touches over 12 million cows worldwide, making SCR the global leader in advanced solutions for cow monitoring. To learn more about SCR, visit