Ear tags take pressure off

Ashley Cook is continuing the family farming tradition.

Ashley Cook is the sixth generation of his family to farm at Laang in south-west Victoria.

The 22-year-old joined his parents Allison and David after completing his VCE in 2018. He has since completed a Certificate III in Agriculture and is now studying a Certificate IV in Agriculture at South West TAFE.

Laurel-Dale farm, where the Cook family milks a commercial Jersey herd of 330 cows, was established by their ancestors in 1877. When David returned to the farm after working as a mechanic in 1997, it was a mixed herd of predominantly Friesians.

“We swung to Jerseys because they suit the farm better, which has mostly light soils,” David said.

“They are lower maintenance and physically easier to work with and it’s easier to keep the Jerseys fully fed in our pasture-based system.

“Fortunately, our milk payment system now pays evenly for butterfat and protein.”

Allison and Ashley check the herd.

Picking up silent heats

The Cook family started using CowManager for fertility and cow health last season. They immediately noticed the increased accuracy when using the Fertility Module during breeding.

“We used the tags to identify heat and to double check last year but this year we are working solely off CowManager,” Ashley said.

“Last year went well and the accuracy was definitely better than tail paint. So far this year we’ve had very few returns, so it seems to be going well.”

Allison said CowManager picked up “the ‘quiet heats’ we might miss”.

“It is more accurate in the timing of which cows are ready to join and it’s not reliant on our observation.

“Often, it’s the good genetics that otherwise would be missed. That’s the bonus. It takes the pressure off us.”

24/7 health monitoring

The Cooks also use the Health Module in CowManager.

“Before we introduced CowManager we picked up on a cow’s health by observing their behaviour — was she going slow, breaking routine, not eating, sitting low in the paddock?” David said.

“With CowManager we can step away. Observations are more intermittent.

“We can grab the phone and trace her history, see if she’s been eating in the past 24 hours; see if it drops off. We can follow the coloured graph and watch.”

The health alerts on CowManager allow them to keep an eye on the herd at all times.

“You don’t panic and call the vet. We can watch and decide by the graph if we can treat her or if we need the vet. It gives us 24/7 monitoring,” David said.

Allison said there had been little change in their use of antibiotics.

“We use them better; we respond quicker because we have the information,” she said.

“If we pick them up half-a-day ahead of our observation, they respond to the medication better.”

Ashley said if the cows were not eating they could use pain relief and see if they came back.

“We monitor her. Sometimes that’s all it needs to kick-start eating again,” he said.

“But if she goes backwards again, we call the vet.”

Ear temperature is the key

The CowManager ear sensors are unique because they combine measuring ear temperature, eating, rumination and activity, resulting in more accurate and earlier alerts.

“We chose the ear tags over collars because they can rub up against trees with the collars and lose them,” Allison said.

“Our farm has plenty of native trees scattered throughout the paddocks, so l thought a tag system would be a better option.”

They receive alerts on health and fertility on their phones and computers and have the option of sharing selected data with additional staff or vets through a MultiView function.

More relaxed farming

The Cooks have found using CowManager has made their working life easier. They no longer have to rely on being there at all times to observe the cows.

The improved accuracy of heat timing by just looking on the phone and knowing which cows to catch has made them all more relaxed.

“I was in Melbourne and was still able to send a message to Dad on which cows to AI that night,” Ashley said.

“We’re trying to step away from the dairy,” David said.

“To monitor from a distance and still maintain good conception rates — it frees us up and makes life easier.”

CowManager's Paul Quinlan with Allison and Ashley.