One of the side-effects of implementing new technologies has been the explosion in daily data that we generate on a single dairy cow. Modern, monthly Dairy Herd Improvement (DHI) data collection includes approximately 70 data points per cow per lactation. These data have been used to manage individual cows on the farm and improve genetics, nutrition, health and various other herd management areas for more than 50 years. In the past 10 years, parlor systems have opened the door to collection of data during every milking. Not only can we collect milk weights, we can also collect information about the composition of the milk. More recently, we are seeing a new set of data related to continuous monitoring of animal activity, health and well-being.

With the newest parlor systems under way, we will be able to collect almost 5,500 pieces of production data during a single lactation. If you add milking times and daily values for cow activity and rumination to this mix, that adds another 1,500 pieces of data during a single lactation. Due to the growing number of diagnostics, it is unlikely we will see a slowdown in data generation. The explosion in data is not limited to cows. We can collect data on the young stock as well. With calf-feeding systems, we can monitor calf feed intake and general health of the calf.

Are producers facing data overload?

From a day-to-day cow management perspective, the answer is NO. This information allows us to evaluate if cows are having health problems, show signs of heat and monitor nutrition among other things. Most of the systems collecting all this daily data have easy-to-use reporting functions that condense the data down to useable cow-based information that can be used by the various individuals working on the farm. Add the use of mobile devices to communicate, and this information is easily shared across the dairy.

However, the challenge comes when you want to look at the overall herd management picture on a farm and how this compares to other farms. To achieve this, you need to access data from multiple sources, multiple animals and over a longer duration of time. This is where producers can spend many hours and days behind a computer sorting through all this data in order to turn it into useable information. Using the above numbers, if you were to analyze one year’s worth of data collected on a 1,000-cow dairy, you would need to summarize 7 million pieces of data (1,000 cows multiplied by 7,000 data points). Without the right tools and expertise, this can become a daunting task.

What does the future hold?

Dairy producers will continue to look for new technologies and tools to improve herd management and the bottom line. This will mean even more data available for producers and consultants to base management decisions on.

So, what can producers do to maximize the benefits of having all this on-farm data?

• Sign up with DHI and allow the DHI’s to collect and store the on-farm generated data in a centralized computer system.

• Centralized DHI computer systems will allow analysis of data from multiple sources and will develop the next generation of herd management analysis and decision aid tools and provide these back to participating producers.

• Producer can work with third-party consultants specialized in using these herd analysis and decision aid tools and identify the areas of herd management offering the greatest areas of improving profits.

Robert Fourdraine is vice president of DHI operations with AgSource Cooperative Services in Verona, Wis.