Breeding More Precise With Activity Monitors
With limited labor and milking 380 cows, Jody and Jeff Schaap, Woodstock, Minn. are finding their activity/rumination monitoring system is allowing them to get cows bred more precisely. They’ve been rewarded with better conception and preg rates.
The Schaaps have been using the SenseHub ear tags from SCR by Allflex since February 2018. The SenseHub is a modular system with very little infrastructure needed, so it can a lower cost install for smaller herds, says Tom Breunig, president of SCR by Allflex.
The Schaaps have 450 tags placed on their cows and breeding age heifers. Once confirmed pregnant, the tags on the heifers are removed and switched to open heifers.
“Our conception rates (CR) jumped dramatically when we first started using the system,” says Jody. “We discovered we had been breeding too early before. This takes the guess work out of it.
“We went from a 25% CR in January to a 36% CR the beginning of March after about a month and a half after using the SCR tags. Our CR dropped a little through the summer but has come up again the last month or so, and is much better than previous years through the summer,” she says.
The Schaaps also no longer spend time watching for heats. “My husband, our herdsman and I all have the system on our phones. So when a breeding window comes up, we know exactly what cow to breed, what pen she is in and we can go breed her,” she says.
The Schaaps have a voluntary wait period of 55 to 60 days. If a cow hasn’t shown any heat activity by 70 or 75 days, the animal will by synchronized. Overall, their use of reproductive hormones has dropped by two thirds.
There is a learning curve to the technology. For example, you might get an alert that a cow is off on rumination. She might be sick, or it might be just a change in feeds or the weather. So before checking the cow, you first have to check to see what is happening across the herd, says Jody. “A cow might show up on the health list but looks fine when you check her. But it might be just a change in feed and everybody is down,” says Jody.
“But if it is the individual cow, you’re catching the problem so much earlier that you have a fighting chance to fix it before it becomes serious,” she says. “You have to learn to trust the system because it doesn’t fail, and you have to learn to interpret what the system is telling you.”
The Schaaps originally estimated the payback on their system would be about two years, but that’s before they added tags for breeding heifers. “By putting tags on the heifers, it probably stretches our payback out to 2 ½ years,” says Jody. “But we’ve found that because heifers always seem to be more active, the system works even better in finding those heifers actually in heat.”
Did you see part one of this series? If not, read A Herdsman on Your Hip – Part 1
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