By Jenny Hanson, Communications Manager, CRI
Back in October, Genex and SCR Dairy Inc. announced a new partnership in which Genex markets the SCR Heatime® system. As explained in the December issue of Horizons, 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.
While I thought that article did a great job of articulating the ease of use and benefits of Heatime, I wanted to hear producers' thoughts on the system. I spoke with two Genex members who, since October, have purchased and begun utilizing the system. Below you'll find the thoughts and opinions of Frank Orner, owner of an 80-cow herd in Rockton, Pennsylvania, and David Myers, owner of a 300-cow herd in Summerhill, Pennsylvania. These individuals are among the Genex members with herd sizes ranging from 80 to 1,200 cows that have already made the investment in pursuit of optimal cow health, improved reproduction and greater peace of mind for years to come. Both were eager to share their Heatime story. As you read, you'll see why.
Why did you decide to install the SCR Heatime system?
Frank: About six or eight months ago we were missing cows in heat. We'd think the cow was in heat and breed her. Then 42 days later we'd catch her in heat and breed her again. That led me to believe we were missing some heats in between. About that same time, we were having a hard time catching heifers in heat, getting them bred at the right time and getting them settled. I'd been interested in activity monitors for a while and decided to ask others if they knew of anyone using one. I ended up talking to Ben Wilson from SCR. I knew him from when he worked for Atlantic Breeders (a Genex predecessor organization). After some discussion, he told me to think about it a little more and get back to him. not long after, Genex Area Marketing Manager Pete Hamming told me Genex was going to offer Heatime. I knew I wanted to get in on the ground floor.
David: I thought every now and then we may be missing heats. I was also concerned about the timing of our breeding - when the cows were coming into heat and when they were going out of heat. In other words, I had the feeling since we were only breeding once a day that maybe I had been jumping the gun a little bit. Maybe I should have waited until the next day to breed some of these cows. I was intrigued by the rumination data too.
Do you use the system on both cows and heifers?
Frank: I only got the activity collars for the heifers; those collars don't collect rumination information. The plan is to leave the collars on the heifers until they are confirmed pregnant. At that time, we remove the collars, move the bred heifers out of that barn in order to bring in more breeding age heifers and put the collars on the new group of heifers.
We have enough collars to keep them on all 80 cows. We want the collars on cows all the time so we can watch activity as well as rumination levels to identify health problems. We can see how they are doing as dry cows and follow them through the transition.
David: I plan to have collars on each of my 300 cows all the time. I only have about 140 on now, but hope to get more on soon. I like to put them on the heifers three weeks or so before freshening. This way, on the rumination numbers, I can analyze both cows and heifers to see how they eat and ruminate before they freshen. My experience has been if their rumination is up and down before they freshen, it will stay the same after they freshen - only after they freshen it jumps to a higher level.
I think starting with collars on a portion of the herd has actually helped me to learn the system. I can look at a cow and then look at the monitor to see where the cow is in terms of activity and rumination.
At this time, we are not using Heatime on our heifers. If someone has a heifer barn they aren't by all the time and they want to breed A.I., I could see how Heatime would be very valuable for catching heats.
How has the Heatime system helped you?
Frank: We're early into it since it was installed in January, but we've already found some cows and heifers in heat we otherwise wouldn't have. It's doing everything they said it would.
The only thing we have changed in our breeding program is we are holding off and not breeding some cows until the next day. The system gives you a better idea on the window of time to ovulation. I think our timing might not have been as good just going off visual signs of estrous.
We also started watching rumination data and using the health reports. I do like to be able to look at the information to see how a cow is increasing in rumination after freshening. We haven't had a real problem cow yet that isn't transitioning properly, but I'm sure if one doesn't transition well the system will show it.
We did have one cow that started to develop foot rot. Before I even saw her limping, the system showed her decrease in rumination. I was trying to figure out what was wrong with her about 12 hours before she actually went lame on the foot. I think this is going to be very valuable for finding cows that are just a little off. Then I can get the issue straightened out before there's a loss in milk production.
David: It's been a learning experience for me. Haim Fleminger of SCR told me I'd really like the heat detection activity monitoring part. He said I'd understand that part right away, but it would likely take about six months until I really learned the rumination monitoring. I probably looked puzzled at that, but after having the system in place for four months I better understand and appreciate the rumination numbers. The information available is almost unlimited. By looking at the numbers, I can tell the timeliness of the feeding or if the feed bunk would happen to be empty.
The activity monitoring is almost like having another person here to observe heats. It's nice to know exactly when these cows come into standing heat and how long they stay in standing heat. In addition, I did very limited timed sync breeding before, and I do even less now. I think we're also more accurate now in picking out cows that are pregnant as well as ones that are cystic or off cycle.
I do want to point out I am the person in with the cows doing heat detection and things like that. I feel learning the system has been easier for me since I am the person that walks the cows. I know what the cow normally looks like and can go see what the monitor tells me and vice versa.
Do you feel the system is worth the investment?
Frank: I think it's going to be worth the cost in just getting cows bred at the right time. I think it's going to help decrease the age at first calving, days open and the calving interval. I think those benefits alone will pay for it.
In addition, the rumination information is going to be very valuable. At this point, I don't know how much the return will be on that. I do think it could be fairly substantial. If we can avoid drops in milk production - due to feed or other issues - that's going to pay dividends big time.
David: I expect this is going to be one of the better investments I have made - I really do. Plus, it's been relatively trouble-free, even for someone like me who's not real computer literate. I think the average dairy producer could look at this system and have it figured out relatively quickly. I think as I get more into this, I'll likely be able to spend less time in the barn too.