The goal of a top-notch herd health program is to monitor fresh cows—or any cow that requires extra attention—and intervene in an extremely targeted and timely manner.

As a 4,000-cow California dairy recently learned, animal monitoring technology can help accomplish this objective in ways a traditional fresh cow protocol cannot. For years, the dairy followed a full-scale transition monitoring program with excellent results. The dairy ranked above industry average in milk production, milk quality and reproductive performance.

While valuable, labor, time and resources are often a challenge with traditional fresh-cow health protocols. In this case, the program required two people to take daily cow temperatures after calving up to 10 days in milk for every fresh cow. Depending on the number of calvings, 110 to 200 cows were examined daily and protocol tasks took three to four hours to perform.  

This well-managed operation felt that the predictive data available via new rumination and activity monitoring technology would allow them to improve cow care and efficiency while reducing costs. And it would provide health status information to help the operation’s veterinarian make informed decisions and diagnoses as necessary.

Scientific Backup

Plenty of data underscores this decision—and validates the data for use in herd health management.

Research published in the December 2012 Journal of Animal Science showed:

·         Cows with reduced rumination before calving also experienced reduced rumination time after calving. These animals also suffered a greater frequency of disease than cows with greater rumination time in late pregnancy.

In addition, recent data from Cornell University show:

·         Animal monitoring systems reliably indicate an incidence of a displaced abomasum as many as three days prior to physical symptoms

·         Cases of ketosis were evident via the system about a day-and-a-half before physical symptoms appeared

·         Cases of general stomach upsets were apparent about a half-day earlier than with visual observation

Immediate On-Farm Results

By monitoring rumination variation, the dairy was able to quickly single out those animals that required extra attention.

Instead of needing to examine 150 cows each day, many of which were perfectly healthy, the team could spend their time with the 30 to 50 cows (again depending on number of calvings) that needed the extra attention. The transition team could then target their interventions to meet individual cow needs. It also provided the veterinarian needed health and performance data to modify protocols as appropriate.

As a result, the streamlined process dramatically reduced the time cows spent in headlocks—down to less than an hour each day. Cows had more time to go about natural feeding and lying behaviors. And cows that didn’t require attention skipped time in headlocks altogether.

The dairy noted an uptick in feed intake, largely due to cows spending less time in headlocks thanks to the monitoring system.

The dairy also modified pen moves after watching rumination time fluctuate—particularly for cows that were in the hospital pen.

Prior to the animal monitoring system, the cows would have been moved back to their milk pen based on temperature or appearance. But often times the cow would regress after the move and require a move back to the hospital—a frustration for the dairy and the herd veterinarian. 

Now by watching rumination data, the herd manager can determine when the cow’s rumination time is optimal for moving back with her herdmates. With the valuable insight of rumination information, the dairy has essentially eliminated animals regressing and returning to the hospital.   

All of these changes resulted in fine-tuned health protocols and healthier cows that more easily transitioned to their next lactation. 

Ultimately, the opportunity to target which cows required extra attention resulted in improved performance for these individual animals and the dairy as a whole. In addition, veterinary care and attention was focused on animals that required interventions, improving efficiency and time management.