At 7 a.m., Joel Sutter sits down at a computer to review his cows’ rumination activity.
“It gives me an outline for the day,” he says. “It gets me mentally prepared for what I am walking into.”
Recently, he noticed that one of his cows with tag number 6397 had ruminated 191 minutes the day before, which was below her average. It was enough of a red flag that Sutter checked her out. She appeared normal, but Sutter and his employees planned to observe her a little more, particularly her eating behavior.
Every cow has her own pattern, and cow 6397 certainly has hers. And, with a tag around her neck to monitor rumination behavior with an embedded microphone, it is literally possible to listen to what she is saying.
It puts Sutter in a more proactive position with his cows, including the ability to spot health problems earlier, monitor the effectiveness of health treatments and improve heat detection.
Sutter’s farm, Fertile Ridge Dairy near Mt. Horeb, Wis., bought 350 of the rumination tags last year.
Fresh cows get the most attention.
“A lot of times, we look for illness,” Sutter says. “With fresh cows, we look for a ketosis issue.”
Early detection is a plus. With rumination monitoring, Sutter says he can pick up the signs of illness 12 to 24 hours earlier than he could with visual observation. “You’re a step ahead of the game,” he says.
Sutter has found that cows with ketosis often have a good rumination pattern for the first five days post-calving, but then there’s a reduction in rumination activity — or pullback — on day 6 to 10. “Those are the cows I check and they tend to be ketotic,” he adds. (Experts say a cow-side confirmatory test, such as a blood or urine test, is needed once a cow is identified as a ketosis suspect.)
Once a cow is diagnosed with a health problem, rumination monitoring allows Sutter and his staff to see if treatment is working or not — for instance, with ketosis, the effectiveness of oral propylene glycol.
Research backs it up
Italian researchers, writing in the Journal of Animal Science last June, found that measurement of rumination time is “a useful tool for herd management, and in particular could help the farmer to identify the animals with a higher probability of health disorders.”
In November 2012 edition of Journal of Dairy Science, researchers from Germany wrote that rumination time is an appropriate measure for early detection of metabolic disorders. But their main focus was on estrus or heat detection. They found that rumination time was significantly reduced during estrus, which makes rumination monitoring a useful tool for heat detection.