Farmer Focus: Hoping heat-time collars pay for themselves 

After a busy 10 weeks, the calving season came to a close last weekend, giving us almost four weeks to prepare for the breeding season again.  

There is a certain joy to behold when the sun is shining, the evenings are that bit longer and all the sheds are empty in early April.  

For our farm, it’s a little window of respite to be enjoyed after the mayhem of calving and we normally take a weekend off the farm. Given Covid-19 restrictions, we will simply enjoy a few more walks with the children in the forest instead. 

See also: Why ditching heat collars saved dairy farm £20k

This year, we are changing our approach to breeding, having invested in a cowmonitoring system.  

The collars are buckled on and linked to each cow’s identification tag using a mobile phone app. The cow’s data is logged over the next seven days to set a baseline reference point.  

Rumination, eating and activity times are recorded on the collar and uploaded to the central hub, located in the parlour, every time the cow comes in for milking. This data is then available on the app for making decisions and drafting cows for breeding 

It will, hopefully, result in replacing tail paint and associated labour, as well as dropping a vasectomised bull on the farm making things a lot easier and safer.  

We did not have an issue with heat detection previously, but Neil works off farm a couple of days a week. He was having to go and pick out cows for breeding before work while the relief milker was there during the breeding season. 

This system also integrates with the centralised cattlebreeding database, making recording heats and services a much simpler task.  

Having done our homework on different products available, taking our farm system, layout and budget into consideration, we settled with the Allflex Livestock system SenseHub 

It is a considerable investment, at £120 a cow (ex VAT), but with a five-year warranty and seven-year battery life it should pay for itself over time.  

In addition, we should find better information about cow health, which is becoming increasingly important as we move towards lower antibiotics use in the industry as a whole.  

Gillian and Neil O’Sullivan are dairy farmers from southern Ireland. Read more.

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