Activity Meters are they Worth the Investment at Calving?

Activity monitoring systems have been in use for many years as tools to manage breeding of dairy cattle. In recent years, there has been a great increase in the number of activity monitoring systems available on the market. Not only are there more options available, but they are used for more than a heat detection tool. These modern activity systems can monitor rumination, cow temperature, cow location within the barn, cow position (lying vs. standing), eating time, and more. With the increased functionality, these systems are being used increasingly to monitor overall cow health.

The transition period, from approximately 21 days pre-calving to 21 days post-calving, is a period of particular concern for the health, production, and profitability of the dairy cow. Metabolic and reproductive health issues associated with the transition period, including displaced abomasum, ketosis, milk fever, metritis, and retained placenta, are common causes for early removal of cows from the herd. These diseases can be linked in most situations, therefore the impact costs on the business can snowball.

The illustration below gives a breakdown of costs related to disease that are linked to calving.

A Case Study in the USA had shown the benefits of investing in technology to prevent and reduce early lactation health events.

Case Study Results

Average daily rumination and activity patterns for all cows are shown from 21 days pre-calving until 28 days post-calving. Pre-calving, daily rumination for the herd averaged 490 minutes per cow per day. Average daily rumination and activity patterns were similar across the herd, however, there were apparent differences in the activity and rumination patterns between the pre-calving and post calving periods. Most notably, rumination was lower in cows in pre and the post calving groups.

Results indicate that activity and rumination data during the pre-calving period could potentially be used as a tool to help farmers detecting cows that may be at a higher risk of becoming ill or leaving the herd during the first 30 days in milk. This early warning could provide farmers with an opportunity to implement best management strategies for these at-risk animals, allowing them to cope better with transition period challenges, and therefore, decrease the risk of becoming sick or leaving the herd.

The investment in an activity monitoring system therefore is a benefit, costs ranging from £100 to £150 per cow would soon pay for itself. Most systems are grant funded through the Small Productivity Grants paying up to 40% making that decision more attractive.

Please contact Mark for more information, at markyearsley@fcgagric.com or your local FCG Office.

Posted in Business Management, Dairy & Forage, Sherborne.