USING SMART livestock technology for dairy cows goes beyond just heat detection and record keeping when cows are in milk – it is also being used to improve transition management.

The ability to monitor real-time activity levels and rumination patterns – and compare these key health and performance parameters against expected benchmarks – is a powerful means of improving the way dairy cows are managed during that critical transition.

This period is recognised as starting three weeks prior to calving and extending for another three weeks after parturition, and we now know that this is one of the most important phases in every dairy cow’s production cycle.

Big changes are on the way for the cows and they must overcome a range of pathophysiological, metabolic and environmental changes in order to be able to express maximum productive and reproductive efficiency after calving.

It is, therefore, important to plan, manage and monitor this aspect of the cow’s production cycle in fine detail. Then to put in place protocols which will eliminate the guesswork and inconsistency of evaluating the health and reproductive status of individual animals.

The latest generation of non-invasive herd monitoring technologies (such as the Allflex SenseHub system) monitor activity levels, rumination patterns and eating habits, plus a range of other key cow behaviours, to build an accurate picture of each cow’s health and fertility status.

This will, in turn, give herd managers access to reliable data which empowers them to optimise conception rates through accurate and reliable heat detection – including the detection of weak heats and minimising false positives.

The same technology can also be used to ensure heifers calve into the herd at a younger age, leading to further reductions in costs and a more rapid improvement to the genetic quality of the herd.

Modern herd monitoring systems can also reduce, or eliminate dependency on pharmaceutical inputs and veterinary intervention during the transition period. They do so by providing an early diagnosis of underlying post-partum pathological or physiological conditions.

Ongoing monitoring of ailing cows also enables managers to assess the animal’s response to prescribed therapies, resulting in reduced recovery times and better cost-effectiveness of treatments. Early detection of serious post-parturition conditions can help reduce culling rates of freshly calved cows by identifying those in need of additional attention or veterinary intervention.

“High-yielding dairy cows will typically ruminate for 8-9 hours per day with any reduction the result of variations in feed intake/quality or ill health, both of which can have a direct impact on fertility,” said Johnny Mackey, monitoring sales manager for Allflex Livestock Intelligence.

“Rumination duration and frequency also vary during the transition period, with a significant drop noticeable as calving commences. Following a normal delivery, rumination should return to pre-calving levels within 24 hours, with any deviations from this anticipated pattern indicating a problem.

“By highlighting deviations from normal rumination, herd monitoring systems can reliably prompt herd managers to take timely pre-emptive actions to avoid further deterioration in health and to reduce mortality rates,” added Mr Mackey.

“Scrutinising rumination in real-time and making data-driven management decisions based on the information generated by monitoring systems therefore enables herd managers to micro-manage each animal on an individual basis and to take decisive action during the critical transition period.

“In doing so, it is possible to highlight non-cycling or anoestrus cows and to take proactive steps to reduce the number of ‘open’ or ‘empty’ days which can cost upwards of £4.50 per animal per day,” he pointed out.