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Listen Up!

November 28, 2012
By: Jim Dickrell, Dairy Today Editor
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Joel, left, and Gary Sutter say their activity monitors find 25 more cows in heat each month while reducing hormone use by two-thirds.   
 
 

Activity, rumination monitors revolutionize cow care

Activity and rumination monitors are revolutionizing the way dairy producers detect cows in heat and get early indications of health problems.

SCR Dairy Inc., an Israeli company, has been offering the monitors to North American dairies for several years, and has the technology on about 400 farms in the U.S. and Canada, says Tom Breunig, the company’s U.S. general manager. In the United Kingdom and Denmark, about 25% of cows are now being bred off of these systems, he says.

SCR sponsored a media tour of Fertile Ridge Dairy near Mount Horeb, Wis., last month. Fertile Ridge, owned by Gary, Joel and Nick Sutter, milks about 600 cows and has been using the technology since April 2012.


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The Sutters were breeding off the activity monitors throughout the summer—one of the hottest on record in southwest Wisconsin. "We wanted to go to the next step in heat detection," says Joel Sutter, herdsman.

"The monitors give us more flexibility in time management, take out a lot of labor and drug costs, and give us more information," he says. Synchronization drug use has dropped by two-thirds.

Sutter estimates that with activity monitoring he is finding 25 more cows in heat each month—roughly one per day—than he did using the Ovsynch program. "The SCR system just takes the guessing out of it," he says.

The rumination monitor records the number of minutes a cow ruminates each day. It does so by listening for sounds of rumination and cud chewing. If a cow ruminates less than normal—each animal has her own baseline, but the average is 475 minutes per day—it’s an indication that something is wrong.

"Before, we were treating cows off of clinical signs of disease. A lot of it was reactive—temping cows, ketosis tests and so on," Sutter says. "Now I spend more time in the office looking at the computer. If something is out of whack, I can check that cow out as an individual rather than walking the whole group."

The Sutters place activity/rumination tags on cows in the prefresh group three weeks prior to calving. The tags remain on the cows until they are confirmed pregnant.

The system isn’t cheap: it costs $7,500 for a 400- to 500-cow herd and can be double that for larger herds. The activity/monitor combined tags are $155 each (activity-only tags run about $125).

But the system typically produces a return on investment in 18 months, says Haim Fleminger, SCR’s director of U.S. strategic business development. The returns come in lower
labor and hormone costs and quicker detection of health problems.
 

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The monitor is strapped to the cow’s neck, with data downloaded at each milking.

 

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FEATURED IN: Dairy Today - December 2012

 
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