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.