The dairy industry is witnessing the introduction of new technologies on the marketplace at an ever-increasing rate. Certainly, there are many benefits to technological advances. However, new technologies bring with them a new set of challenges.
Dairy farmers have access to more precision dairy farming technologies than ever before. Bewley (2010) defined precision dairy farming as “the use of technologies to measure physiological, behavioral, and production indicators on individual animals to improve management strategies and farm performance.” Examples of precision dairy farming technologies include: automated milk systems, automated calf feeding systems, automated detection of estrus, rumination monitoring, calving detection, and lameness alerting. It is an exciting time for the industry because these technologies provide a great opportunity to enhance farm management. Technologies may also improve quality of life for farmers while improving cow comfort and health.
During a recent visit with Virginia Tech dairy science faculty and graduate students, Dr. Jeffrey Bewley, associate Extension professor at the University of Kentucky, described what might be expected of an ideal precision dairy technology. The technology would: explain an underlying biological process; result in meaningful action by the farmer; be cost effective; be flexible, robust, and reliable; be simple and solution focused; and provide readily actionable information.
As new technologies are introduced, some people rush to be the first to implement. Others watch the early adopters with skepticism and wait for the kinks to be worked out before investing. Still others may never participate for a variety of reasons. When evaluating new technologies, there are numerous considerations.
At the 2017 Conference and Expo on Precision Dairy Farming held in Lexington, Kentucky, Dr. Henk Hogeveen from Wageningen University reminded attendees that in order to be successful, precision dairy farming applications need to address a clear problem associated with clear actions. Things one must evaluate before investing in a technology include: economics, ease of use, maintenance requirements, data storage and backups, technical support, and labor requirements. One must keep in mind that technology is not a cure for marginal or poor management.
Automated estrus detection has perhaps been the most widely used precision technology to date because it works. Dr. Julio Giordano from Cornell (2017) identified major difficulties with traditional methods of estrus detection. In general, there is poor compliance with visual observation for heat detection. Few farms consistently observe cows for heat twice a day for 30 minutes per session. Secondly, there is a lot of variation in estrus behavior of cows in both number of mounts and duration of estrus. Traditional heat detection programs are labor intensive and repetitive. Giordano highlighted potential benefits of automated estrus detection using pedometers, collars or eartags to combat difficulties with traditional estrus detection. Continuous monitoring reduces missed heats. Automation also provides an objective evaluation of behavior or physiological status of the cow. A third benefit is the elimination or reduction in labor costs.
Beyond automated estrus detection, much remains to be learned about precision dairy technologies. However, regardless of the precision dairy technology in question, it is known that farmers who implement these technologies cannot afford to be isolationists if they truly want to maximize return on their investments. Technology users should rely on dealers, consultants, and other farmers with the technology to learn more about the system and how to get the most from it. New technologies require an investment in time up front to learn the system. Participation in discussion groups is one way that farmers can enhance their knowledge of ways to interpret information from systems and consequently make better management decisions.
Precision dairy technologies offer many opportunities to collect and analyze information on cows to improve performance, cow comfort and health. With careful study and planning before making an investment in a precision dairy technology, any challenges associated with the technology may be minimized.
David R. Winston is an Extension dairy scientist, youth, in the Department of Dairy Science at Virginia Tech.
Source: Lancaster Farming