Modern communication technology enabling round-the-clock monitoring of individual animals was outlined by Ivan Andonovic of Embedded Technology Solutions, at the QMS R&D Conference, last week.
About 6000 dairy cows and heifers in the UK wear collars with microchips, which transmit individual animal activity level information to the herdsman’s computer.
Called The Silent Herdsman, this technology, launched in Spring 2010, is still evolving, said Prof Andonovic. Currently the system is focussed on oestrus detection in dairy herds.
“When a cow or heifer comes into oestrus, her activity noticeably increases. This system constantly monitors and sends signals to the computer, charting the activity levels of each collar-wearing individual. Once an animal’s activity significantly increases, the system alerts the farmer with an on-screen message on the base station computer”.
Steve Brown, who runs the high yielding Highcroft Holstein herd at Burton Query, Leicestershire, has been using Silent Herdsman collars for oestrus detection since November.
“We already use transponders on collars on the cows for out of parlour feeders, so we put the Silent Herdsman transmitting equipment, which is transferable from one animal to another, onto the transponder collar after a cow has calved. This stays on until she’s in-calf,” said Mr Brown. “Bulling heifers are wired for oestrus detection once they’re at the right stage for A.I.ing.
“The modern Holstein cow often poorly displays oestrus, and we’ve had problems catching cows on heat. The collars are accurately picking up ones I’ve missed, as well as flagging up all the ones I have spotted.”
When an individual female is displaying increased activity, the computer screen saver flashes a big red cow. In the past Mr Brown has used colour-changing heat detectors on the heifer’s tail heads, but a group of heifers can all get excited when one comes into oestrus, sometimes triggering heat detectors on heifers not in heat, he said.
“An animal’s activity levels drop if they’re unwell, so we’re thinking about leaving the equipment on after a female has been PD’d, to flag up early signs of mastitis or some other illness.”