By Shane St. Cyr, Training & Field Support Manager, SCR Dairy Inc.
In October, Genex and SCR Dairy Inc. announced a new partnership in which Genex will market the SCR Heatime system. This advanced, real-time system enables dairy producers to power-up their cow monitoring capabilities.
"We are excited to align with SCR Dairy, the market leader in cow activity and rumination systems," says Roy Wilson, Genex Vice President of U.S. Marketing, Sales and Service, "and to deliver this innovative cow monitoring system to Genex members and customers so they can make better data-driven decisions."
The Heatime system combines one-of-a-kind rumination monitoring with accurate heat detection, allowing dairy producers unmatched access to information about cow health, nutrition, reproduction and comfort. The precise data allows for better individual and whole-herd management because health and reproductive problems can be identified early and addressed quickly.
SCR Dairy is the clear leader in heat detection and rumination technology. Since 2010, SCR Dairy has produced 2.5 million monitors, delivering superior service and expertise with outstanding on-farm success for both small and large farms.
Heatime Heat Detection is Easy to Use
It is easy to miss heats using traditional heat detection methods or secondary signs of heats. One advantage to the Heatime system is it watches cows 24/7. As research (Table 1) shows, 68% of cows show signs of heat at night.
Activity increases related to estrus are easily demonstrated on individual graphs (Figure 1) but can be driven completely by software, such as color-coded breeding reports or interfaced with dairy management software information.
Adding rumination information to heat detection indicators results in a powerful management tool for improved dairy cow health and reproduction. The SCR software constructs a parameter called the Heat Index. The Heat Index is a score that uses activity change and three other parameters, including rumination, to automatically calculate if a cow with an elevated activity change value is a true heat (Figure 2). Our ability to combine additional data and information into the heat algorithm provides increased accuracy when compared to activity alone.
Not Just for Cows
While heifers are highly fertile, it's not unusual to miss estrous events with visual heat detection alone. Since nearly all heifers show increased system activity, users can gain a quick return as heifers get bred sooner and calve at the desired age. Breeding during natural heats also spreads out calvings more evenly for the calving pen and can give producers more confidence to use genetically superior sires. Heifers also allow for a quick return on investment because after they are bred the monitoring collar can go to another heifer, allowing for several pregnancies from the same collar each year.
Harnessing Rumination Data for a Healthier Herd
Dairy producers, veterinarians and nutritionists have long relied on cud chewing - both the sights and sounds of rumination - as a key monitor of dairy cow health.
That's because cows normally ruminate about 450 to 500 minutes, or about eight hours, a day. A drop in rumination time signals something is impacting rumen function or animal well-being.
Previously, rumination was typically monitored through visual observation, either live or via video. However, watching for physical signs of rumination is labor intensive, and typically only a few cows can be monitored at a time.
Research1 published in the December 2009 Journal of Dairy Science found SCR's electronic rumination monitoring results were highly accurate. Using individual cow transponders and computer software, the electronic system looks for deviations from a cow's "normal" trend.
A drop in rumination time often precedes a drop in milk production and often occurs before physical symptoms of health disorders appear. This means users can monitor rumination time to anticipate potential health concerns before visual signs arise.
One way to use this information is for early intervention and treatment during the transition period, including:
• Intake monitoring. It can help identify cows with lower prepartum dry matter intake, which is important because cows with lower rumination time before calving often have lower rumination time after calving and suffer a greater frequency of disease than cows with higher rumination time in late pregnancy.2 The data can also offer early insight into ration or nutrition issues.
• Earlier Interventions. Visible signs of ketosis may not appear until much later than the actual onset of the disease. By monitoring rumination, producers can intervene earlier than if just watching for physical signs.
• Management Assessment. Rumen monitoring may also be helpful to assess a cow's short-term response to grouping strategies or other interruptions on a dairy farm. This information can then be used to validate current practices or as a basis to adjust future grouping actions.
By watching data trends, managers can quickly determine appropriate interventions and the timing of these actions to the benefit of individual animals and the betterment of their herd.
Armed with the information provided by the Heatime system, users can learn about things such as pre-fresh and fresh cow health trends, TMR consistency and cow comfort during times of stress. Actions based on rumination data can lead to a decrease in post-fresh health issues, improved ration control and investigations into improved cow comfort.
Furthermore, the activity and rumination monitoring data enables users to assess treatment performance when interventions are necessary. Herd managers can see if they are on the right track, and rumination time will increase.
Conversely, if a cow isn't responding to treatment as expected, she will show up again in the Health Report, and the user can make a judgment on the next steps to take.
Monitoring Feed Information and Rumination Alerts
Actionable data from this time-tested program has replaced more subjective measures of cow health. Predictive information also helps target group and herd-wide health, nutrition, reproductive and feeding programs to keep them on track.
While most cows spend about eight hours ruminating each day, it's not the total number that's critically important to track; it's the variability in your herd's rumination time that should be monitored and used to assess potential challenges and solutions. You can track individual animals, groups or pens, and the entire herd to obtain a wide-scale view of what's happening on your operation.
When rumination variations occur outside your herd norm and you need to investigate the cause, begin with the easiest questions first. For instance, when exploring whether a nutrition challenge is causing an increase in health problems, ask:
• Is the mixer working properly?
• Is the feed added properly to the mixer, and are correct mixing times being observed?
• Is the feed delivered timely, in the right location and in sufficient quantities?
• is the milking schedule on time, allowing for access to feed at a routine time?
• Is sorting occurring?
Once you've addressed these angles, then it's time to explore areas like feed source consistency, ration ingredients, heat abatement, cow flow, grouping strategies and other feed and management-related factors.
Nutritionists who have used rumination data say the tool is one more way to help them keep track of what actually happens in cows, noting the information significantly helps shorten the lag time between when a nutritional problem crops up and when issues with health or performance are identified.
Peace of Mind
Whether you are looking for a way to improve milk, cow reproduction, overall herd health and nutrition, heifer reproduction or just want another 'set of eyes' in the barn allowing you to focus on other areas of your operation, the predictive, precise and proven capabilities of the Genex-provided SCR Heatime system make it the solution to help you get to the next level! Make the investment to take advantage of optimal cow health, improved reproduction and greater peace of mind for years to come.
1 Schirmann K, et al. Technical Note: Validation of a system for monitoring rumination in dairy cows. J Dairy Sci 2009; 92(12)6052-6055.
2 Soriani N, et al. Relationships between rumination time, metabolic conditions and health status in dairy cows during the transition period. J Animal Sci 2012: June 28.