Taking care of dairy cow performance to achieve more milk, better reproduction, reduced disease incidence and better milk quality takes time and close monitoring. How exactly can technology help in the barn? Is purely visual detection of disease and discomfort the better and more reliable way to proceed? Or are digital systems the way of the future?
To improve individual animal and farm management and, more importantly, agricultural production, more and more dairy producers are acquiring sensor-based monitoring technologies. The food intake and ruminating behavior or well-being of each individual animal has traditionally been assessed through visual observations by the farmer. This observation of the animals can be considered highly subjective and subject to different interpretations. Moreover, it is a very time-consuming procedure, which, however, can be supplemented by new sensor techniques since a few years.
In a 2016 study (Borchers, Chang, I.C., Wandsworth, & Bewley, 2016), a close dependence was found between visual observation and data from an ear tag-based monitoring system – the Smartbow health monitoring system. In the aforementioned study, an accuracy of a very good 97% was tested. Due to the accurate overview of the rumination minutes per day, diseases can be detected and treated at an early stage. If the cow is unwell, the rumination minutes per day decrease or the cow does not ruminate at all. There are different possibilities of interpretation here. To draw the right conclusions, one should look at the animal and consult a veterinarian if necessary.
In another study from 2014, the time the cow spent lying down was also examined in more detail. Lying time can be an indication of cow comfort, well-being, as well as health changes. For example, sick cows usually spend their lying time outside the herd.
Certain sensor technologies can help to have a more precise overview of the herd and in particular to detect diseases, general complaints as well as oestrus and calving more quickly and to act or support accordingly. Early response to, among other things, diseases that are not yet clinically visible can not only reduce the cow’s discomfort, but also save money; this is possible, for example, by reducing the use of medication. The additional time saved can then be used for family and friends or even other projects. In summary, sensor technologies can be seen as a great help in dairy farms, as has already been confirmed by independent studies and participating farmers.
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Is purely visual detection of disease and discomfort the better and more reliable way? Or are digital systems the way of the future?