Joe Allen of Allendale Holsteins in Vergennes, Vt., doesn’t have x-ray vision when it comes to cow health. But he has the next best thing—rumination data.

Allen uses a technology that harnesses the power of rumination and uses it to monitor cow health and improve individual cow management.

Earlier signs of health events, earlier diagnosis
Dairy producers, veterinarians and nutritionists have long relied on cud chewing—both the sights and sounds of rumination—as a key monitor of dairy cow health, and with good reason. Because cows ruminate 450 to 500 minutes per day, a drop in rumination time is a clear sign that there’s something impacting rumen function or animal well-being. Rumination monitoring can provide an early window for diagnosis.

This knowledge offers producers the opportunity to intervene and head off challenges before they would otherwise have realized a problem. As Allen has learned, “The cow may look alright, but the thermometer will say differently when you check her.”

Allen experienced this scenario first-hand during a pneumonia outbreak when he had a cow come up on the health report of his activity and rumination monitoring system (marketed by SCR Dairy Inc.) At first glance you wouldn’t think she was sick, he explains.

“She appeared healthy and was milking well, but we checked her anyway and found that she had a fever of 107 degrees F. We treated her right away, she recovered quickly and she never lost any milk production,” Allen says. “The system always picks up sick cows; I can give you about a dozen examples of this.”

The system is designed to help users find sick cows more quickly.

“Cows that look perfectly healthy, but have reduced rumination data, will almost always have a significant problem 24 hours later if you do nothing,” says Joe’s wife, Becky Allen, a veterinarian who has used the system with other clients, as well. “Usually, she’ll run a higher temperature if you check her, but you’d not know that she’s clinically ill just by looking at the cow.”

What Allendale Holsteins has experienced has been confirmed in university research. One research trial1 compared electronic rumination monitoring with visual observation of rumination monitoring, and found the electronic system results were highly correlated with those of visual observation. Monitoring rumination with an electronic system also provides a numerical value for each day’s rumen function, and compares it to the individual animal’s average. This can prove especially effective when changes in rumination patterns occur before acute symptoms of a major health event are seen.

“The system helps us catch things much earlier and improve the odds of a successful outcome,” says Becky Allen. “We can intervene earlier and work with cows that are not as sick as if you’d waited for clinical signs to appear. You can also see the impact of ration changes using the data.”

Channeling rumination’s power

The system combines rumination, heat detection and cow identification functionality in one unit.

Joe Allen says the activity monitoring component has helped the dairy cut synchronization protocol hormone costs by roughly $1,000 per month. Factoring in the amortized cost of the system, Allen estimates, “We are putting about $350-400 in our pocket each month, and we’ve seen a 10% increase in pregnancy rate.” He expects the system to pay for itself in 18 to 24 months.

“The system has really changed our reproductive management,” notes Becky Allen. “We can be more efficient with our herd check time—a lot of cows that would have been found open previously have been found in estrus by the system prior to the herd check and rebred. We can spend more time with cows that may have had a problem during transition or are noncycling, meaning we can utilize our time better.”

Allen says he spends about 15 minutes twice a day with the data to manage heat detection and herd health. "It’s given us the freedom to not be so concerned about whether anyone’s catching cows in heat or identifying sick cows. We just check the report and the information is there. Once you get the collars installed (which isn’t difficult), it’s the easiest system in the world to use.”

To learn more about the technology, visit www.SCRDairy.com.

1 Schirmann K, et al, Technical Note: Validation of a system for monitoring rumination in dairy Cows. J Dairy Sci  2009;92(12)6052-6055.

Source: SCR Dairy Inc.