Animal health in focus: modern monitoring

–  a blog post by NDL member smaxtec  –

The topic of animal health and animal-friendly husbandry is on everyone’s lips and is also a much-discussed topic among consumers. But what factors influence animal health? How is animal health related to cow feeding and fertility? And what precautions can farmers take to improve it? – smaXtec sheds light on these questions and uses its own example to explain what sensor-based systems can achieve in everyday life. Since 2009, smaXtec has been developing solutions for the continuous monitoring of dairy herds of all sizes for use in over 30 countries.

Healthy cows are the basis for an economically successful farm.

In order to ensure or improve animal health, the farmer must always keep an eye on his cows so that he can intervene early in the event of health problems and thus prevent severe disease progression. Many things can be detected and solved in time through good observation and care, but changing farm structures and sizes do not always allow for the ideal level of individual animal care. Many different technologies are now available to assist farmers in their work and help them to ensure animal health and performance in equal measure.

Animal health: what influences it?

Optimal housing conditions, fresh air, an easily accessible feed table, an animal:feed space ratio of 1:1, clean drinkers, a pleasant barn climate and soft lying surfaces, among other things, ensure well-being and create the conditions for healthy animals. In recent years, milk yield has increased significantly and with increasing milk yield, the risk for various production diseases has also increased significantly. Examples of these are udder inflammation, hoof diseases, cysts, inflammation of the uterus, postpartum behavior and milk fever. For this reason, it is even more important to closely monitor dairy cows and create a suitable environment for them.

Minimize stress for healthier cows

Stress has a particularly strong negative impact on animal health. The decrease in feed intake and performance and increase in bacterial as well as viral infections due to a weakened immune system are just examples of consequences of stress.  Cow monitoring systems help farmers detect stress at an early stage. At smaXtec, we use a bolus, a sensor located at the bottom of the reticulum.  It measures various parameters that are influenced by stress, among other things. For example, if smaXtec detects a change in the activity level of a cow, this can already be a sign of stress. If feeding and drinking reluctance are added, these are further factors that indicate an abnormal state of health and can be detected by the smaXtec bolus.

But it is not only the smaXtec bolus that provides information about animal well-being, the smaXtec Climate Sensor also helps to detect stress and unwellness and improve animal health. The Climate Sensor measures temperature and humidity in the barn and automatically calculates the THI (temperature-humidity index). Combined with the data from the Boli, reliable conclusions can be drawn about heat stress, allowing immediate action to be taken.

Influence of feeding on health

Performance and needs-based feeding on dairy farms influences animal health (fertility, udder health, etc.) and milk yield like no other management area. Cows are very sensitive to the smallest changes in feed composition or ration design. Even if the energy content is right, the components may change. This can have fatal consequences for the rumen microbes and subsequently for the rumen health of the animals.

Only animals with a healthy rumen feel well and produce a good milk yield. Therefore, it is essential to constantly optimize the feeding of dairy cows with regard to individual animal needs. At smaXtec, we therefore collect additional monitoring data such as rumination, feeding times and rumen motility. This means that the farmer always has an overview of the feeding status of his cows and can optimize rations if necessary.

Better fertility through increased animal health

Healthy animals are not only more productive, but also more fertile. Fertility problems are not uncommon in modern dairy farming. Many different factors affect fertility. Fertility problems are only to a small extent genetically determined. Environmental factors and diseases have a much stronger influence. Errors in husbandry and feeding, inadequate management, too short voluntary waiting periods after calving, poor climatic conditions, drying off too late, but also diseases such as metabolic disorders and hoof diseases have an impact on animal health and subsequently on fertility. In case of irregular cycles, smaXtec notifies the farmer, for example, and enables control and possible measures.

Advantages of continuous observation by bolus technology

By continuously measuring and interpreting data from the rumen, farmers know how their animals are doing around the clock. By combining different parameters, such as body temperature or locomotor activity, the farmer can be provided with individual health information that supports him in the early detection of diseases.  By intervening in time, the farmer can reduce the risk of severe disease progression and reduce the use of medications, especially antibiotics. The use of a monitoring system thus contributes significantly to ensuring and improving animal health.

smaXtec’s cow monitoring system

smaXtec offers three modules for this purpose: health, fertility and feeding. The farmer can select one, two or all modules depending on his needs. Modules can also be selected or deselected on an animal-by-animal basis. The data is made available to the farmer on mobile devices in an app or on a PC in a web browser, regardless of location. He receives alerts when action is required and also has an overview of the current herd health and fertility in the dashboard. In the action list, he can see which actions he should take. With immediate notifications on mobile devices in case of irregularities, the technology can be easily integrated into everyday life and keeps the farmer informed about his animals – no matter where he is.

For improving the bolus and expanding the system to include new parameters such as rumination, feeding times and heart rate, smaXtec is awarded a silver medal at Eurotier this year. After the first silver medal in 2010, smaXtec is especially pleased about the renewed award for the innovative bolus technology.

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