Precision dairy technology is rapidly changing the dynamics of the industry. There are many technologies available, but selecting the right type of precision equipment to invest in can be a difficult choice.
At the Precision Dairy Conference in Rochester, Minn., at the end of June, the overlying theme was focusing back on the individual cow and finding the right tools for modern dairies.
Henk Hogeveen, faculty of veterinary medicine at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, related that during the time of hand milking and small herd sizes, it was easy to focus on the management of each individual cow.
“However, something that is happening all over the world is the number of farms is decreasing and the farm size is increasing,” said Hogeveen.
This has resulted in an increased amount of cows per farm worker, making management responsibilities more difficult.
“That means we have an increased need for efficiency and, until now, that increased need for efficiency was done by managing cows in groups,” stated Hogeveen. “You couldn’t look at the individual cow anymore so we kept cows in groups and management was equal for all groups.”
Small producers who have invested in labor-saving devices like automatic milkers, automatic calf feeders, activity monitors and robotic feed pushers are now being placed on an even playing field with large operations that haven’t invested in technology.
“That’s the big thing with precision dairy is that you can go back to the individual cow, even in big herds,” said Hogeveen.
Echoing those sentiments during his opening presentation of the conference was Jeffery Bewley, extension specialist with the University of Kentucky.
“We’re really focusing on individual-cow management so we can improve animal health, animal performance and animal reproductive management. Hopefully, this information helps us to make more timely and informed decisions about how we manage the animals that we work with,” said Bewley.
Redefining the dairy
While the technology is moving the focus back to the individual cow, what exactly is precision dairy?
Bewley defined precision dairy as, “the use of automated or mechanized technologies towards refinement of dairy management processes or information collection.”
“It’s broader than just robotic milking. It’s broader than just estrus detection technologies. It’s broader than just feed-management technology. It encompasses all of these things,” stated Bewley.