Ask the herd manager at Abel Dairy how much lead time he gains in spotting health problems with rumination monitoring, and he answers with little hesitation, “half a day.”
What manager Greg Costello and others at the Eden, Wis., facility appreciate is the feedback it gives them in spotting possible problems. When a cow goes down in rumination activity — as determined by neck tags with embedded microphones — they can go back and look for visual clues that will confirm a diagnosis.
It’s teaching everyone how to pick up health problems quicker, Costello says.
And with 1,500 cows in the milking herd, a “second set of eyes” is certainly appreciated.
Another farm with the SCR Dairy rumination tags — Majestic View Dairy in Lancaster, Wis. — is reporting similar results.
Herd manager Sarah Johnsen recalls working the fresh cows one day, but didn’t spot health problems in three of the cows until looking at rumination reports.
“I remember thinking if I hadn’t gone back and looked at the cows specifically because of the rumination reports, I would have missed them that day,” she says.
Rumination monitoring is one of the new technologies to catch early signs of ketosis, metritis, displaced abomasum and other problems. Some of the technologies are quite innovative. One device measures a cow’s eating time by monitoring head movement, while another gives rapid readings of leukocyte (or white blood cell) count in milk samples.
iPhone technology for cows
Turn an iPhone sideways, and the screen changes to a horizontal perspective. Turn it up and down, the perspective is vertical. That bit of magic is accomplished with the use of an accelerometer.
An accelerometer inside a neck tag can tell what angle the cow’s head is positioned at the feed bunk. That, in turn, provides a measure of eating time.
Normally, a cow is at the feed manger eating 400 to 500 minutes per day, says James Bringe, activity monitoring specialist at GEA Farm Technologies. When she falls below that number — or her own personal average — it indicates there may be a health problem, he adds.
“Feeding time can identify significant drops of feed intake, which can help determine if we have a rumen function problem,” he adds.
The CowScout™S tag from GEA measures an animal’s activity in two-hour periods. When that information is combined with milking parlor data, such as milk flow rates and conductivity (or concentration of minerals in the milk), it provides an even more precise picture of what may be going on.