By monitoring the cows’ rumination activity, the farm can pick up certain cows that are experiencing metabolic problems, such as ketosis or metritis. Rumination goes down when cows experience these problems, and the HR tags around the cows’ necks (with embedded microphones) can measure this.
This allows the crew at Sugar Creek Dairy a chance to spot cows with metabolic problems earlier and more reliably than they could with simple observation.
“We can spend more time with the (cows) that really need it,” Horsens says.
Rumination monitoring can also show how the fresh cows — as a group — are responding to feeding changes.
Last summer, Adams changed his ration to include more canola meal since canola meal had become a cheaper alternative to soybean meal. But rumination activity was impacted right away. The canola meal was speeding up the cows’ digestion, warning of possible acidosis problems. So, Adams added straw to the diet and rumination returned to normal.
Adams can still walk the pens and look at the cows’ cudchewing, body condition and manure consistency. But, with rumination monitoring, he has an extra set of eyes.
In the November 2012 edition of the Journal of Dairy Science, researchers from Germany wrote that rumination time is an appropriate measure for early detection of metabolic disorders. But their main focus was on estrus or heat detection. They found that rumination time was significantly reduced during estrus, which makes rumination monitoring a useful tool for heat detection.
Less reliance on reproductive hormones
Sugar Creek Dairy is one of the dairies that have seen its use of reproductive hormones go down with the rumination/ activity monitors, since the estrus synchronization protocol — double ovsynch in this case — does not have to be followed to full completion now that there’s a better way of finding cows in heat.
Another operation, Mystic Valley Dairy in Sauk City, Wis., has seen its use of reproductive hormones go down by half to three-fourths with the HR-Tag system. The farm has eliminated tail-chalking altogether. “The goal here all along is to have 50 percent pregnant by 100 days in milk and 70 percent pregnant by 150 days in milk,” says Mystic Valley owner Mitch Breunig. “We are still getting that,” he adds, but the back end has been compressed by six days, which means that 70 percent are actually pregnant by 144 days.
And, “we’ve done this getting 107 pounds of milk per day,” points out Kevin Jorgensen, director of dairy programs for Select Sires, who works with Mystic Valley, a 450-cow operation.