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.

Speaking of milking parlors…
A recent visit to Sweden turned up some amazing stories of producers who are using the Herd Navigator system from DeLaval to spot health problems early. (Herd Navigator will be introduced in the United States in the near future.)

The Herd Navigator system allows Swedish producer Patrik Boner to access the risk that certain animals have for mastitis, ketosis and other health problems.

For instance, the amount of BHB or beta-hydroxybutyrate showing up in milk samples is indicative of ketosis risk. If a cow shows elevated levels, putting her at high risk, Boner can treat her with propylene glycol. Similarly, if the samples show high levels of an enzyme known as LDH or lactate dehydrogenase, it is indicative of increased risk for mastitis. He can give those cows more “permissions” to stop at one of the robotic milking stations as a way to treat mastitis with more frequent milkout.

New high-tech ways to monitor herd healthHerd Navigator can work with both robotic milking stations and conventional milking parlors.

At another company where the emphasis has been on robotic milking stations, the Lely Astronaut has sensors for conductivity, milk temperature and a host of other factors.

For instance, if there is low activity, high milk temperature and deviation in conductivity, the cow may have an udder infection. If the fat/protein ratio is higher than 1.5 — for instance, 3 percent protein and 4 percent fat — it could be ketosis or acidosis. High activity and lower-than-normal rumination may simply mean the cow is in heat.

The Lely Astronaut reads activity and rumination tags, combining that information with its own sensors.

Lab in a box
New high-tech ways to monitor herd healthOne of the new products to roll out at World Dairy Expo this year was the QScout MLD (milk leukocyte differential) Test.

In about three minutes, QScout MLD, which works with the QScout Farm Lab, will give you leukocyte (or white blood cell) counts from quarter milk samples.

But it’s not just the raw cell count; it’s the differential or percentage of each kind of white blood cell in each of the quarters that provides important clues. QScout interprets this information and gives the producer a color-coded report:

Red = infected, green = clean or uninfected.

“It’s all about earlier, more accurate identification of subclinical mastitis,” says Joy Parr-Drach, president of Advanced Animal Diagnostics.