It’s a perpetual challenge when it comes to fine-tuning cow management for Sandy Mitchell and his team, who are responsible for the Kelso-based 1400-cow Kennetsideheads Holstein herd which currently averages 12,000 litres.

However, during the last two years, since introducing ear sensors to each milking cow, the technology has been able to improve pregnancy rate by 3%, while an already low level of antibiotic usage has been reduced by 50% – and the vet and medicine bill by 20%.

“When a high-yielding herd reaches a certain level of performance, taking it to the next and continuing to fully exploit its genetic potential, it can be challenging,” said Bryn Moore, herd manager at Kennetsideheads.

The Scottish Farmer: CowManager ears tags have helped improve cow health and productivityCowManager ears tags have helped improve cow health and productivity

“However, we’ve found introducing CowManager’s unique ear sensors has been one of our best investments in the last few years.”

Sandy Mitchell was introduced to the technology back in 2022 when the unit’s existing pedometers were coming to the end of their productive life and he agreed to trial 50 CowManager ear sensors over a six-month period.

“They proved quickly to be a very good aid to our stockmanship skills, so we were convinced it was the right thing for the entire herd, apart from the culls,” Bryn explains. “We’ve since been using the system’s three different modules – fertility, health and nutrition – and 18 months on, we can say the ear sensors have proved to be our partner in herd management, working shoulder to shoulder.”

Each ear sensor continually measures movement while an algorithm translates this to specific behaviour such as eating and rumination. Additionally, ear temperature is measured, helping to detect for example heat stress.

“This real time data is transmitted wirelessly and received and displayed by cloud-based software linked to a smartphone app or PC, as well as the farm’s existing herd management software. The data can also be shared externally, for example with the farm’s adviser, vet and inseminator.”

The Scottish Farmer: Sandy Mitchell's Kennetsideheads' dairy averages 12,000litres per head per yearSandy Mitchell's Kennetsideheads' dairy averages 12,000litres per head per year

At Kennetsideheads, the system’s app has been downloaded to four phones owned by Sandy, Bryn and two staff, while a fourth staff member prefers checking on the office PC. Three experienced milkers also check the office PC while outside professionals, including the vet and nutritionist, have access to the system to track any health or diet changes all the way back to installation date.

“We routinely check an average six times throughout the day,” Bryn explains. “This wealth of real-time information provides us with early alerts, allowing earlier treatment which has enabled us to reduce antibiotic use, in some cases eliminate it altogether, while providing treatment before the typical 30% reduction in milk yield happens.”


He continues: “Preg rate improved from an average 27-28% to a current 29.7%, a level close to Sandy’s 30% target, while managed interventions have reduced from 19% right down to just 14%.

“Each ear sensor is providing us with real-time data enabling earlier heat detection and identifying the optimum time to serve, visualised in the insemination window. The system is also providing guidance on the ideal window for serving with conventional or sexed semen while it flags up silent heats. Consequently it means fewer hormonal interventions have to be set up by the vet.

“The technology is identifying cows that have failed to hold after the initial 30-day PD, for example any cow that re-absorbs after 100-plus days. Previously, the vet rechecked after 60 days.


“The system is enabling early intervention and in turn we’ve reduced antibiotic usage by a significant 50%, and we are well on the way to reaching our RUMA target.

“We’re currently sitting at 11 mastitis cases per 100 cows – two years ago and that figure would have been nearer 26 cases,” says Bryn. “The trend is down to the sensors providing early alerts to all kinds of mastitis, but most notably to E. coli mastitis, enabling faster and more effective treatment – within the first six hours of spotting the alert on the app.

“We’re able to treat with fluids before the infection reaches the point of no return. Previously antibiotics would have been used. This continued success has given us increasing amounts of confidence to change the unit’s treatment strategy.”

Bryn continues: “Other incidents, such as a downer cow with an upset rumen, have been identified, and immediately and successfully treated with fluids and an NSAID thereby eliminating the need for antibiotics. The ear sensors also provide insights to calving issues.

“Rumination trends flag up undetected problems including breaches.”

Nutrition group alerts

The technology provides nutrition group alerts which provide trends, for example among the dry cows.

“If their feeding regime or diet components are changed, any negative response is flagged up, an immediate response made, and any subsequent issues prevented. This can then hopefully be seen in improved fresh cow performance.”

The system also provides low feed intake and heat stress group alerts, along with graphs to compare groups and management changes.

Transition alerts

CowManager users also have access to transition alerts which identify at-risk dry cows up to 50 days before calving. The monitor provides in-depth insights to cow nutrition and wellbeing at an individual and group level for transition problems, and provides the data to interpret in order to ensure there is minimal disruption to a cow’s potential, and eliminate any further health issues, Bryn explains.

Transition alerts came up trumps on two recent occasions at Kennetsideheads when the team noted a drop-off in rumination which led to investigation.

“One was a heifer in the early stages of calving found to be experiencing a breach calving. This not only allowed us to ensure the safe delivery of the calf but also cause no further issue to the dam – only anti-inflammatory was needed,” says Bryn.

“The second cow had dropped off two days before calving, resulting in a low feed intake that in turn could have developed milk fever before calving or afterwards turned into an LDA. Instead, we gave her a nutrient bolus which we use for any pre-calving issues.”

Exploring tech horizons

As activity monitoring technologies become more sophisticated in the not-too-distant future, it seems possible that the emerging data could be combined with data from genomic testing, milk performance records and CowManager to identify cows that are more resilient to adverse events, comments Dr John Cook of CowManager distributor, World Wide Sires.

“This data will have the potential to find cows that have a greater capacity to maintain performance or bounce back after suffering an adverse event or disturbance such as disease, poor weather conditions, management alterations or diet changes.

“Many of these factors often occur together on a dairy farm or they interact, so it makes sense to first identify cows that are generally resilient across a range of stresses and then explore and, if possible, select cows with greater genetic predisposition for resilience.

“Eating and rumination behaviour are indicators of feed intake and consistency of feed intake, and the ability to recover in the face of adverse circumstances are all believed to be good indicators of resilience in dairy cattle.”