New tech helps manage cows

A NEW cow ‘fit bit’ is making it easier to diagnose sick cows and influence management decisions around fertility and performance.

Cow Manager uses a small ear tag to monitor and record cow activity, temperature, eating, rumination and resting times.

It’s a system Coomboona Dairies’ bovine health solutions director Robert Bonanno swears by.

The technology, which analyses data and can be accessed on a computer or mobile phone, alerts users when a cow is sick or needs attention, allowing for quicker response.

With a herd of about 2500 cows to monitor at the commercial dairy, about 20 km north-west of Shepparton in northern Victoria, Dr Bonanno said the data was more reliable than human observation.

“I now find a sick cow within less than one day of her getting sick, which is much quicker than if you had to rely on people finding her — that’s variable,” he said.

“The technology picks it up about 12 to 24 hours before we can visually see it, so we can then go and have a look at her and find out what’s going on.”

As well as alerting farmers and vets to the existence of a sick cow, Dr Bonanno said the alerts also helped limit the effects of illness.

“It’s not just about finding sick cows, it’s about being able to treat them quickly and then save that lactation,” he said.

“If you know early then you can solve the problem before her milking has gone kaput.

“It can save lactation, so that’s where the profitability is from a dairy farmer’s perspective.

“If she gets sick early after calving then we’ve lost all this production capacity. So identifying sick cows early can mean literally thousands of litres of milk if you catch it early.”

Outside of just keeping the herd healthy and productive, Dr Bonanno said the tool also helped staff to identify cows in heat.

“It can distinguish between which cows are sick and which are on heat,” he said.

“So it gives us real insights into what cows are doing … Because it’s really incredibly difficult to heat detect accurately, especially in a large herd.”

By monitoring the data collected by the device, Dr Bonanno said alerts could be set up when milking to check a cow for mastitis or other signs of illness and draft them off so they can be more closely examined in the future.

Dr Bonanno said although the technology was key, it was important to back it up with proper attention.

“It can tell you it’s sick, but it can’t tell you what’s wrong,” he said.