Imagine having boluses constantly monitoring rumen pH, collars keeping an eye on feeding behaviour and thermal imaging cameras picking up early signs of mastitis.
Researchers at Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) are looking at integrating these three technologies in a series of projects to help farmers better manage dairy herds and improve efficiency.
Speaking to Farmers Weekly at the Royal Highland Show, Malcolm Mitchell, professor of physiology and animal welfare explained he sees technology as having a key role as herds get larger.
“As we get much larger herds, any feed savings through greater efficiency can become very large. So decision making based on this collected data becomes more important and the benefits make it more cost effective,” he said.
He highlighted that thermal-imaging cameras were already being used in the equine world. They are also being used in SRUC research projects detecting early signs of lameness, including research to do detect digital dermatitis and laminitis.
“One possible application is mastitis detection, as it can be used on individual teats detecting differences in temperature. So you are not just looking for a hot udder, but can see differences in individual quarters and could be used for early diagnosis,” he explained.
The other two technologies are already commercially available. The Well Cow bolus monitors rumen pH with farmers able to download the results via wireless receiver.
“As we get much larger herds, any feed savings through greater efficiency can become very large. So decision making based on this collected data becomes more important and the benefits make it more cost effective.”
Malcolm Mitchell, Scotland’s Rural College
“They are applied using standard bolus gun and sit in the reticulum for the life of the animal. The device measures the pH every 15 minutes,” explained Prof Mitchell.
Farmers then download data every one to two days using a scanner, but in the future cows may pass a detector as they go into the parlour.
Rumen pH changes through the day, falling after each feeding, then rising at night. The optimum is 6.0-6.5 and problems [acidosis] start to occur when it remains below 5.5 for extended periods, said Malcolm Bateman of Well Cow.
Sub-acute ruminal acidosis can lead to reduced milk yield, poorer feed conversion and depressed milk fat content.
A continuous reading gives a more accurate picture of the times when PH falls below the threshold. The firm has also developed a smartphone app so farmers can access data more easily and the results can be stored online using the Cloud.
“Up until now, it has been aimed at researchers around the world, but now with the phone app, it is much easier to use.” Mr Bateman is also looking to run pilots on commercial farms before launching it more widely.
The third piece of technology, the Silent Herdsman, is an acceleration collar, which is used by dairy farmers to aid heat detection. But it can also be used to detect when a cows is about to calve and if the calving is normal, said Prof Mitchell.
Another application being investigated is feeding behaviour, as this changes when cows suffer metabolic disorders and combined with bolus information, can help identify problems.
Prof Mitchell believes all three technologies are highly complementary and explains his ultimate vision is to have a thermal-imaging camera in the parlour looking for early signs of mastitis complementing the collar and rumen bolus looking out for metabolic disorders.
Source: Farmers Weekly