"It was always a guess as to how the fresh cows were doing," Karl Funk, co-owner of Funk's Midway Dairy in New Munich, Minnesota, says of his dairy's transition cow program prior to investing in a rumination technology system. "Most (cows) are healthy, but you're always watching," he adds.
When Funk and his family learned about the technology, it became quickly apparent that it could help the dairy to overcome this challenge—with improved cow health as the benefit.
The system that Funk uses, Heatime® HR Tag from SCR Dairy, allows him to track rumination, in addition to activity monitoring, enabling him to see deviations from normal activity.
Rumination is an indicator of a properly functioning rumen, and a gauge of animal health. Dairy producers, veterinarians and nutritionists have long relied on cud chewing as a key monitor of dairy cow health, but until now, rumination hasn't been an easy parameter to track.
Since the system has been integrated into the Funk's 600-cow dairy, transition cow management has been streamlined—and more effective. At 3 a.m. an employee goes over the rumination report to determine which cows need attention. "Instead of spending time eyeballing all the cows, we go straight to those one or two cows that need attention," says Funk.
"Rumination offers an early window for diagnosis since a drop in rumination time frequently precedes any drop in milk production, and often occurs before physical symptoms appear," says Tom Breunig, U.S. general manager for SCR Dairy, based in Madison, Wis. This means dairy producers can monitor rumination time to anticipate potential health concerns before visual signs arise.
According to research1 that followed cows from dry off through 150 days in milk, rumination tends to decrease in the last two weeks before calving, drops suddenly at calving and then rapidly increases postpartum. About a week after calving cows usually reach normal daily rumination time, which stays relatively stable for the remainder of the lactation. Any deviation from a cow's "normal" trend is flagged and can indicate the need to evaluate potential health issues.
Monitoring rumination trends also enables dairy producers to assess a cow's responses when an intervention has been made. This information helps to determine when she returns to "normal" more quickly than is otherwise possible. That's because responses often occur in the cow long before the human eye can detect what's really happening. And having this information at your fingertips can impact management protocols and actions in a positive way.
"We realized we were over treating about half of our mastitis cases," notes Funk. "Also, before the SCR system was in place, we would drench cows with ketosis twice a day for two weeks. Now, in the second week, we usually drench only once a day and sometimes the system tells us they're healthy enough to not need further treating."
Funk also has found rumination monitoring to be a money-saving technology:
- Pharmaceutical costs for severe mastitis cases are down 33%
- Ketosis drench costs are down 30%
- Faster fresh cow observation frees up time for other management activities, saving an estimated $2,200 annually
"If cow health is important to you, the rumination monitoring makes the system pay for itself—and that's without even considering the heat activity part," Funk concludes.
Source: SCR Dairy Inc.