New Use for Technology


Lee Pattison is always looking for ways to keep his 13 employees on his 700-cow dairy engaged and motivated.

Pattison’s herd near Garnavillo, Iowa, rolls along at 34,000 lb. of milk per cow, butterfat is above 1,200 lb. and protein exceeds 1,000 lb.  So it’s absolutely crucial employees are at the top their game to keep his cows at the top of theirs.

One of the ways he’s doing it is through adopting new technology. “We expanded to our present 700 cows in 2007, and decided that is as large as we want to grow the herd,” Pattison says.
Without expansion or some new project to plan, it’s difficult to keep top employees engaged and motivated. His solution: Adopt new technology that benefits the operation, improves profitability and challenges employees to use it to its best advantage.

In recent years, he has purchased automated feeders to raise baby calves and activity and rumination monitors to improve reproduction and herd health.

Pattison’s 21-day pregnancy rate had been hovering at 19% to 20%. Since installing the activity monitors, the pregnancy rate has jumped to 25% on an annual basis, and as high as 30% in a month.  Pattison attributes some of the increase to the activity monitors and the rest to employees who are actively using the technology.

“Our employees are lot more willing to look at the computer to see when cows are in heat than to stand out in the pens watching for heat,” he says. In fact, his herds-person is now willing to breed twice a day if the cow’s activity increase suggests she’ll be in better heat in the afternoon rather than in the morning when most of the breeding is done. “That seems to have helped conception rates,” he says. And it demonstrates employees taking ownership of the technology to do a better job.

Pattison had hoped to move away from heat synchronization drugs and rely solely on activity monitoring. But that didn’t pan out—his conception per AI service dropped below 60%. Now that he’s on a sync and resync program, the conception rate is back to more than 60%. Between March and April, it jumped to more than 80%.

Employees use the rumination monitors to closely watch the fresh pen, which houses 16 cows. He’s milking these cows 6X, so he doesn’t want to have cows stand in the lock-ups a minute more than needed. Pattison’s crew uses the rumination monitors to see which two or three fresh cows might need attention each day, rather than lock up all 16 cows to do visual and temp checks.  

Pattison has invested in 390 collars for his 700-cow herd. Collars go on two weeks before calving and come off at the 60-day pregnancy check. “The few cows we miss after that pregnancy check aren’t worth the $40,000 it would take to have collars on all the cows,” he says.

An accountant by training, Pattison figures he’s on a two-year payback schedule with a 20% return on investment given current results. More importantly, his employees are fully engaged in getting cows bred and fresh cows healthy. It looks like everyone wins. 

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