Paying its way in more ways

Nick Mignanelli has lifted average per cow production from 13 litres to 30 litres, not by spending more, but by getting the basics right.

CowManager has paid its way many times over and in many ways for Nick Mignanelli, a third-generation dairy farmer on South Australia’s Fleurieu Peninsula.

“Like any technology, CowManager is a tool and the user can become more skilled in using it to achieve better results,” Nick said.

When using sexed semen, which is a costly investment, Nick has been able to tighten the heat detection timeframes provided by CowManager by a matter of hours to increase the accuracy of timing for AI, ensuring higher conception rates.

“It’s very difficult to put a number on the return on investment with CowManager,” he said.

“I use it mainly for fertility and health and both aspects have returned results we could not have achieved without it.”

With six casual staff and one full-time worker coming in and out of the dairy operation, it was impossible to get consistent heat detection for the herd of 180 milking cows, using traditional methods.

“It was just too unreliable,” Nick said.

“I couldn’t get the heat detection to the standard I wanted using scratchies and relying on observation alone.

“But I have to tell you I was the hardest sell for Paul Quinlan [CowManager representative]. It’s a big investment. You can’t do it twice.”

Nick recalls an overseas trip he made a few years ago when a neighbour joined 35 milking cows for him while he was away.

Due to the inconsistency of the traditional heat detection system, only four were in calf when he returned.

Fast forward 12 months and Nick was on a scholarship visit to the United States. CowManager did its job in his absence. The same neighbour did the AI work and he got 30 out of 35 in calf.

There was always going to be an argument about whether technology could do better heat detection than human experience and observation.

Many dairy farmers assured Nick that any problems he had with conception rates could be overcome by better observation.

“But as I got busier, I didn’t have the time,” he said.

“And as our cows improved in productivity the visual signs of heat became harder to detect.”

As a 23-year-old, who took on greater responsibility for the management of the farm from his grandparents seven years ago, Nick has had to be extremely careful about stretching expenses as he works to improve productivity.

In that time average per cow production has been lifted from 13 litres to 30 litres, not by spending more, but by getting the basics right.

“I’ve had to be very critical about putting the expenditure in the right places.

“It’s not rocket science and I’m not an exception. Every dairy farmer must do this today.”

Through soil analysis and more strategic applications of nitrogen and potassium, as well as new varieties of perennial and annual rye-grasses, the irrigated paddocks on the farm have produced 1750 tonnes of dry matter per hectare compared with 750 tonnes four to five years ago.

In the 12 months since he installed the CowManager ear tags, Nick has been able to integrate it into his Easi-Dairy management system.

“The two systems talk to one another. I’ve had no issues and great technical support from both sides.

“Our staff all love the app. They all have it on their phones, and they can see any cows they need to check before they start their shift, so they are not relying on me to tell them, maybe too late, which ones to check.

“They much prefer to feel they are in control and can make decisions based on their knowledge and experience with the CowManager app.

“The thing is the staff want to do well. They are striving for the same outcome as me.

“CowManager helps them to succeed, and everyone feels rewarded and is much happier in their work.”

Nick acknowledges he has questioned CowManager on many occasions, only to be proven wrong, particularly on health.

“I’ve seen the app telling me a cow is getting sick or dropping off or not eating and I think it’s wrong. There are no visual signs.

“But sure enough, a day or two later she starts showing physical signs.

“It is like having a doctor monitoring the cows 24/7.

“I was hard to convince but everyone I spoke to, who used CowManager, assured me it would come back, that I would get the return on investment, even though it’s hard to put a number on it.

“I would say better conception rates and better herd health management are two key improvements.

“Once you know and trust the system, you get less stress and more peace of mind.

“You can go away knowing the system will work. You can check in from anywhere in the world.

“And it allows you opportunities to focus on other things, both on and off-farm.”

– From CowManager